Sunday, August 12, 2012

Teaching the Perspectives--Several Ideas

With this post, I am sharing what I have done in the past with perspectives.  I know there are many successful ways to teach this and so I welcome comments and/or guest bloggers.  Let's get these ideas out there.

At the beginning of the course, we look at group norms, class rules and what sociology is as compared to other social science courses--in particular, the differences.  Each is a way to look at the same thing, human behavior, but using a different lens.

In fact, that is what perspectives are in any field/across fields, a way of looking at different phenomena in different ways.  One way to do this is to stand on a chair or a table and ask the kids what I am seeing.  Another is to get close to the ground like a cat to see what they might see (a video example here--there are quite a few.  Ask students to look at adults from the point of view of a child--adults seem like giants.  So this gets them thinking about perspectives.

I then hit them with this lesson:
It's the Riding Hood Story from the point of view of the wolf.  It changes everything.  The discussion we have after that can be good to great, but I've never had a bad discussion.  This primes the pump.

Another lesson I use is the Poem, "Six Men of Indostan."  The Powerpoint is here.  This lesson deserves its own post, but no time at the moment.

We then go over each of the three perspectives.  What are the main points of structural functionalism?  Conflict Theory?  Symbolic Interactionism?  I rely heavily on our text and other resources I've collected over the year.  We examine quotes from the various people (this is incredibly challenging) and available here:
As I write this, I realize that I have so many examples that are sitting in my brain about each of the perspectives.  Perhaps some will venture out and play.  Since I am not teaching sociology right now, the examples are not always at the surface.  I cannot adequately express how I teach each of the perspectives.  I gained so much over the years working it out with the kids and reading more and more on each topic.  One of my favorites is "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" by Erving Goffman.  Some links and analyses are listed here:

We examine the dramaturgical approach with every person being an actor playing a part in their interactions.  What parts do we play?  What roles do we fill?  What norms do they reflect?

At that point, I help the students create a set of questions that each perspective would ask when examining a society or part of a society.  This can get tricky and may require lots of contextualizing for them.  Most are not necessarily good at this part, so I get very involved.  For the Ph.D.s among us, I realize this is an oversimplification, so I am scaffolding and I end up with something like this:

*"It" refers to society or the group dynamic we could study

Structural Functionalism
How is it set up?  What are the component parts?  How do they work together?  What is the primary function of each part?  What are the intended consequences of the part/action?  What could be unintended consequences of the part/action?  We get into manifest and latent functions.

One example I use is license plates--manifest function?  keep track of auto owners and collect fees. unintended consequence--create collectible plates for later generations

Who has the power?  What kind of power is it (overt or covert)?  How is the power used?  Describe the "sharing" of the power?  How is it distributed?  Are there conflicts or fights over power?  What happens when part of the group gains power and another loses?  and so on

Symbolic Interactionism
Look at the individuals who are interacting--they are doing something--who is doing what and HOW are they doing it?  What kinds of meaning can be attached to what is done?  Has anyone changed status as a result?  What messages/metamessages are they conveying with the action?  How is a person representing him/herself to the world or the context we are examining?  Are they mismanaging an impression?

We can take a look at Myspace and Facebook profile pages--examine what kinds of things people post--what image(s) and impressions are they creating?  What do they want people to think of them?  Are they literally playing the fool or do they have some other goal?

After making sure they are reasonably well-versed in the perspectives, I then demo an analysis of American football from each of the three perspectives.  I take them through the perspectives, answer the questions and look at the game and the spectators in a whole new way for them.

Then I ask them, in small groups, to do the same analysis of one of our high school pep rallies.  Each group has a different perspective.  I go from group to group guiding.  The kids create posters to share and we then do a share-out.

So all this happens in the first couple weeks of the course.  Let me know if you all do something different.  The rest of us sociology teachers would LOVE to hear from you.

Day 1 of this year begins in roughly 12 hours for me.  Enjoy yourselves everyone .

The Teaching High School Sociology web site


  1. I'm new to teaching sociology and I can certainly see myself using these perspectives ideas. Thanks! I was wondering if you could post some brief notes about analyzing a football game with the three perspectives. Love that example but I don't know the perspectives well enough to apply in that way.