Author: Jessica Halperin, Sociology Professor, Metropolitan Community College – Maple Woods
The sociological perspectives in Sociology are powerful tools used for discussion and analysis of society. They provide a framework as well as different lens for viewing the social world.
The three major perspectives include conflict, structural functionalism and symbolic interaction. They’re the foundation for any Sociology course and give students an opportunity to practice critical-thinking skills. Understanding these perspectives moves them beyond a right answer to considering multiple views of a complex situation.
I still remember learning the perspectives in my first Sociology course. I went through the process of wondering which perspective was “right,” to accepting there might be more than one approach, and finally, skillfully using the perspectives as a tool for meaningful discussion.
As an instructor, I’ve made it my mission to help students learn the sociological perspectives and encourage them to use them as critical-thinking tools in class and beyond.
Here are some practices I’ve found useful in taking students through the process of learning and using the sociological perspectives:
Start with the basics.
Give students basic tenets of the perspective to begin with. I’ve created a one-page handout I use with students which includes basic definitions, plus useful questions for each perspective.
I generally introduce the topic in one day so students can hear each of the perspectives back-to-back.
Use current examples.
I use current events to demonstrate how each perspective can be employed for discussion and analysis.
This may seem risky since students tend to have an opinion on current events. However, since one of the benefits of using the perspectives is to minimize bias, it’s a great way to model this practice.
Integrate another voice into the conversation.
If you have a video supplement that covers this topic, I highly recommend offering a second voice for your students.
You could also invite a guest speaker. Hearing different examples and from multiple sources is helpful for many students.
Allow time for reflection.
After introducing them, I revisit the perspectives the following class period, doing a quick review and allowing students to ask questions.
There’s no substitute for revisiting the basic concepts over the first few weeks. Many students need to “mull it over” and make it their own.
Provide opportunities for using the perspectives.
Provide low-stakes opportunities to practice applying the perspectives before giving students a high-stakes assessment.
While teaching the sociological perspectives can be challenging and time-consuming, I believe it’s one of most important tools we can provide our students.
Today, more than ever, we need the capacity to consider multiple points of view.
For further insights and peer-tested tips on teaching an effective course, check out our full library of professional development resources.