What students need to know and do
Develop confidence and skills in developing their own arguments by using evidence, evaluating competing explanations, and drawing conclusions. Students need to learn to move beyond their “opinions” or judgements about issues to using evidence and critical assessment of competing explanations. They need to develop the familiarity and confidence to apply the range of sociological academic literacy skills modelled in scholarly work, to their own practice of developing arguments, using evidence, evaluating competing explanations and drawing conclusions.
Student barriers to learning
Students often lack confidence in presenting their own argument, thinking that lecturers want their own ideas presented back to them, or thinking they might have the “wrong” argument. Others may have their own opinion but it is not informed by appropriate evidence and critical analysis.
Our teaching strategies
To overcome this barrier, students need help to move beyond their own opinions or received views, cope with multiple perspectives, and gain the confidence to develop and express their own arguments (Massengill, 2011). Ways in which they can do this are:
- Show how evidence doesn’t always support commonly received points of view on issues;
- Engage students in class debates over real controversies:
- where arguments and evidence need to be offered for differing positions
- where students are asked to offer evidence for their own points of view
- where students are asked to take the perspective of those they don’t agree with;
- Encourage the tolerance of uncertainty and multiple interpretations by presenting topics where sociologists have very different conclusions about the same/ similar data;
- Offer competing evidence and or theories about a particular issue and ask students to demonstrate how they would develop a sociological argument to support different interpretations;
- Explicitly model and scaffold intellectual and academic skills as described under TLOS above;
- Transfer to students’ own practice through cumulative development of students’ own written work, beginning with short assignments highlighting key skills in first year (parallel with comprehension and reading exercises), using sociological content.
Massengill, R. (2011). Sociological writing as higher-level thinking: assignments that cultivate the sociological imagination, Teaching Sociology, 39(4), 371-381.