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Teaching Sociological Skills: Analysis


Last updated 16 Oct 2017

Some expert advice on how to get your students to be develop the skill of analysis.

Of the assessment objectives set out by AQA, the most frustrating one for examiners and teachers must be analysis. This is because good analysis can turn a decent answer into a great one and unfortunately often it tends towards the descriptive rather than the analytical. In this summer’s exam series students showed a good level of knowledge and understanding of key sociological concepts and theories, but all too often they were underdeveloped and trailed off into list-like responses. In the 30-mark essays this was evidenced by a national average of around 18 marks out of 30. 

So why do students struggle to analyse? 

From my experience of as an examiner and as teacher, part of the problem with analysis is that students often don’t understand the difference between describing what a sociologist thinks and what impact their ideas have on our understanding of sociology. All too often they will rely upon ‘Durkheim suggested…’, ‘Bowles and Gintis found that…’ and the like. Whilst this will score adequately in the exam one or two high band essays across the exam series can make a massive difference to grades. 

Part of the problem is language. Students can fall into a safe zone of regurgitating descriptions of theories and concepts that they have memorised. The good responses use their language skills to show that they understand the consequences of a theory or concept. 

Here is an example, using Labelling:

  • Response 1 – Labelling

Students from working class backgrounds are more likely to be labelled. Ristconducted a study where teachers placed working class students furthest away from them and middle- class students closest to them. The working-class students were labelled as ‘clowns’ whereas the middle-class where labelled as ‘tigers’. 

  • Response 2 - Labelling

Labelling is one internal factor that impacts on students from different social classes. Rist’s study into American kindergartens shows that teachers often make assumptions about students based upon their appearance and label them accordingly. This can then impact not only on the way the teacher treats them, but also on their belief in their own ability as a negative can label can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy should the student internalise the label and deem themselves to be a ‘failure’.

Both paragraphs use the same study to explain the concept of labelling, but the first paragraph is very descriptive. It tells us what Rist found and would be seen as AO1 – knowledge and understanding. The second not only shows that the student has a knowledge of Rist’s study, but is also aware of the impact of it and the study itself is being used to present an argument that labelling has a detrimental effect on working class students.

Teaching students the skill of analysis is difficult but there are many simple ways in which this can be achieved. As always, we at Tutor2u will be looking at resources and teaching methods that can help you get the best out of your students.

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