What my sociology classroom looks like

Anukriti Gulati

I am a new teacher. I just got into this profession about a year or so ago, and I have to say that it has been one of the most stimulating times of my life. Trying to adapt yourself to what each batch of students requires from you and give the attention each student demands is a challenging task. On top of it all to get them interested in sociology, a relatively new discipline within the school curriculum is a tough deal.

Most students come to the discipline with the understanding of it being part of the humanities and thereby easy to learn. I dislodge their “commonsensical observations” relatively quickly. Whether it is the application based questions in the unit test or the back and forth questioning to remove their preconceived notions, students take to the subject with a sparkle in their eyes. (Many continue to look at it warily too.)

So in this effort to reinvent my teaching techniques, I tried something different with my current 11th graders. After a preliminary introduction to the subject and a good speed into the course, I asked that once a week the classroom be turned over to the students.

I call this time – Sociological Structuration, Sociological Talks by Class 11.

Here is a snippet of the circular I sent to the kids –

sociological-structuration

A disclaimer was given to the students before the talk began: Since this is the first time this is happening, feel free to be as creative as possible. Venture into controversial topics if you want, but remember to keep it age, gender, caste, class, sexuality SENSITIVE. This is an open space to share the work of sociologists and your thoughts on it.

Remember to keep an open mind. Empathize.

I initiated the discussions by introducing students to the first chapter of Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon. The idea of the sex-gender distinction, the idea of the unnaturalness in creating a “natural” way of life had the students nodding their head in agreement.

sociology-collage Then came time for the students to research and present. To anyone who has ever been a teacher, you know the kids would not have taken to it easily. Many of them saw this as another burden on their studies and decided to work at the last minute. Many of them gave excuses on the day of their presentations. But one thing was certain, with the ones that did take to it – the discussion lasted for an hour.

I had a student discuss about the idea of ‘slut-shaming’ and eventually take this up to be her research project (as prescribed by CBSE). Another pair of students ventured into the works of Erving Goffman and did a tremendous job relaying their understanding of ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Gender Advertisements’. To understand whether they had actually comprehended what they read, I asked them to give me concrete examples, and they very well could! Another student read up on the sociology of selfies and presented a new-age sociological idea to the class.

These talks take longer than initially expected. Many times, the discussions run beyond the 15 minute limit, many times the students have excuses or absent themselves and you have no back up presentations either, sometimes the syllabus takes primary consideration.

But all in all it is a great way for the students to be introduced to sociology and possibly interest them in envisioning it as a college major.

I have seen the pair who presented Goffman employ it in their projects, I have read examples from Goffman in their unit test papers. It is then that I realized that they are learning! That the student-led classroom is a success!

Some tips

  1. I try to hold these talks every week and usually in the period that is right after their break. This is where they are most chatty. This employs their energy into discussing amongst themselves rather than having to listen to a lecture and write down notes.
  2. I tend to book the audio-visual room or have such a device with an internet connection in the classroom for these presentations. Many times, the students pull out great visual aids for their presentation. Each learning tool thus gets employed in the classroom.

It is important to stress on the idea of empathy and correct student language/preconceived notions when they talk about sensitive subjects like slut-shaming or Dalit literature.

Do let me know if you decide to employ this technique. Any suggestions for my classroom are also welcome!

The author is a Sociology teacher at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, New Delhi. She can be reached at anukriti.gulati@gmail.com.