...I attended a free talk by a panel on ‘Are fluid identities the future?’ as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. The talks explored the question ‘From gender and sexuality to religion, race and nationality, are fixed identities a myth?’ And so I thought I’d attend given that on Component 1 of our AS and A Level Sociology Specifications, the content includes the question ‘What is identity?’, with ethnicity, nationality, gender, social class, sexuality, age, and disability all aspects that are considered.
All the talks were interesting but one in particular stood out for me. Dr J. Hayes-Light, Director at UKIA (the UK Intersex Association) told a real life story. He spoke about a lady in Kenya who, one day walked past a rubbish dump and heard a little squeak. Thinking it was a cat, the lady, wearing cardboard sandals walked across the dump and upon investigation found an abandoned baby, the umbilical cord still attached. Taking the baby to the nearest village she was told the baby wasn’t wanted – the reason being you couldn’t tell from the baby’s anatomy if they were a girl or boy. Whilst still caring for the baby, the lady sought help and was eventually put in contact with UKIA who offered her support. The baby is now 12 and living as a girl.
Set up in 2000, UKIA ‘is an education, advocacy, campaigning and support organisation which works on behalf of Intersex people’. It has associates working to the same purpose in many different countries, because as Dr Hayes-Light said, Intersex people face stigmatization across the world.
When presenting, whether to large numbers or a single class of students, the aim is always to engage your listening audience. I can confidently say everyone in the lecture hall was engaged by Dr Hayes-Light talk and in particular the story he told stuck in my mind.
Often when we think about stories, we think of small children being lulled off to sleep with a fictional, bedtime story. But there are more to stories than this, like in the case of the lady in Kenya. This month I also had the opportunity to attend the OCR geography subject forum and the theme of the day was geographical stories and how they can be part of an effective lesson.
At the geography forum Simon Ross spoke about how GCSE curriculum content could be embedded into stories. He gave the example of Beatrix Potter’s story of Peter Rabbit which led on to thinking about landscapes, also the myth behind the creation of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. He has also successfully tasked his students to imagine they are a rain drop and what their journey would be when learning about the water cycle – in their minds thinking about falling onto trees or rocks. In essence making a process, so often displayed as a diagram with arrows in a textbook, come to life in students minds.
Personally I have always found it easier to grasp more abstract or complex concepts by placing them into some sort of context. It made me wonder whether stories could be used when teaching sociology – and I believe they can. They can be a hook for learning which you can then apply sociological content to.
For example whilst it is a fictional storyline, when looking at BBC1’s Eastenders, what different family types can be identified? Or when considering the impact of digital forms of communication, I could say it has enabled me to keep in contact with my family in New Zealand, or that I have become aware of focus groups and organisations that exist through Twitter which were previously unbeknown to me. I remember from a BSA Regional Conference, Patrick Robinson (teacher and editor of The Sociology Teacher journal), showing a paragraph summarising his day including: consuming a pain-au-chocolate for breakfast, inviting a Spanish friend round to teach him guitar, watching Homeland on television. He would then ask students to read his account and highlight examples of globalisation.
Are there external speakers you could invite to give a talk to your students? Is there a current news story related to what you’re about to teach? Or perhaps task students with creating a story about a criminal: who is this criminal – give them a name, what does their criminal look like? Why did they commit the crime? How can crimes like this be reduced? And in creating the story, students can think about the social distribution of offending, theoretical views of crime and deviance, and social policy and crime – all content on the OCR A Level specification.
So I’m suggesting that stories can act as a good starting point. The story or experience can help appeal to students’ imagination or their ability to conjure up a mental image from which they go on to associate sociological concepts and theory.
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Helen Hemmings - Subject Specialist - Sociology
Helen has worked at Cambridge Assessment for nine years (with a brief gap when she spent a year in New Zealand). For the last two years she has worked at OCR initially managing OCR’s Psychology assessments, then moving across to work on Sociology which she is extremely passionate about! Helen studied Sociology at A Level (she still clearly remembers writing her coursework on conjugal roles!) and then as part of her university degree. In her spare time, family life keeps Helen busy especially as she has two young children.