Exercises

Definitions

In "hard" subjects, such as the sciences, terms are usually defined stipulatively, i.e. they have formal technical definitions which have to be learned. In "softer" disciplines, the terminology is often used in everyday conversation, and so there is a problem about what it actually means in different discourses. Dictionary definitions—so beloved of students—do not tell you what people mean by the terms in practice. This exercise is about helping to tease out those issues.

Example:

Who is Ill?

  • The category "illness" is vague. It means different things to different people in different circumstances. This is an attempt to tease out the meanings surrounding the word "illness".
  • Rate each of the conditions below not according to severity of the illness, but on how clearly the person fits into your notion of "illness".
   

Definitely
not ill

Definitely
ill

1 A person with a peptic ulcer brought on by stress at work

1

2

3

4

5

2 A pregnant woman

1

2

3

4

5

3 Someone still grief-stricken six months after death of partner

1

2

3

4

5

4 Premier League footballer with pulled muscle

1

2

3

4

5

5 Pensioner who frequently forgets to light the gas after turning it on

1

2

3

4

5

6 90-year-old person with failing eyesight

1

2

3

4

5

7 An alcoholic

1

2

3

4

5

8 Someone with genital herpes

1

2

3

4

5

9 A 45-year-old woman who, if she steps on the cracks in the pavement has to go back to the last lamp-post and start again

1

2

3

4

5

10 Someone with a headache, runny nose and aching joints

1

2

3

4

5

11 Someone who claims never to have felt better but is as high as a kite, not having taken anything

1

2

3

4

5

12 A diabetic

1

2

3

4

5

13 Someone who is grossly over-weight

1

2

3

4

5

14 Someone who will not switch on the TV set for fear of the little green monsters who come out of it

1

2

3

4

5

15 A medallist in the Paralympics

1

2

3

4

5

16 Someone who is HIV+

1

2

3

4

5

Add up your total score _______

Method

The items are chosen to illustrate the notion of "illness": some of them are fairly clear-cut, whereas others are debatable or fringe instances. In the exercise above, the particular focus was on mental illness, hence items 3, 9 and 11.

Students are instructed as on the rubric above.

For processing, it is useful to have a version of the questionnaire on an OHT (or you can write it on a flipchart while the students are filling in the questionnaire; it's not easy to do via a computer, pace smartboards). This version should have three columns on the right, as below:
 

    Score Range Rank
1

A person with a peptic ulcer brought on by stress at work

52 2-5 3
2

A pregnant woman

15 1-2 16
  1. Start with one student and ask what she has scored for item 1.           
  2. Then get the student next to her to add his score to the number she called out, and to call out the result             
  3. The next student adds on her score to the second student's, and so on round the class. (It is usually a little faltering for the first item or so, with various jokes about not being able to do mental arithmetic, but soon picks up speed. If you know that some students will really have problems with the addition, you may of course choose to do it yourself, perhaps with the aid of a calculator.)
  4. As tutor, you need to listen carefully for the range of scores being called out (or you could nominate the first person in the circle to note this—she will have done with her duties almost at once.) The table above shows how you enter up the results. The score is the figure called out by the last student. The range respresents the highest and lowest rating given to that item. When all the scores are in, you can work out the rank ordering, from the item which gets the highest score (most clearly an example of "illness", in this case) to that with the lowest (most clearly is not illness).
  5. Having done that, you can then lead a discussion:
    • Look at the extremes of the ranking, or at those items with the full range of rating (1–5), and ask students—particularly those who awarded 5 or 1—what factors led them to give a high or low rating to that item.
    • Use this as a means of unpacking the ideas contained within the notion of "illness", and note them on the whiteboard, such as "disability", "pain", "not self-inflicted", or whatever emerges.
  6. Note that there is a temptation to simplify the method and the processing, but only doing it this way yields the information which you can use to undertake an effective analysis.       
  7. (In the "illness" example given, there is also an option for individual students to add up all their ratings. In this case, but not with other concepts, this yields some kind of score of how "medicalised" is the student's view of problems. It can be compared with others in the group if you wish.)

Another example

(This is the teacher's scoring sheet version)

Is it Education?

 

 

Total Range Rank
1

Toilet training a toddler

     
2

Learning how to program your VCR

     
3

Being fascinated by exhibits in a museum

     
4

Watching a Shakespeare play live

     
5

Watching "University Challenge"

     
6

Attending a rock concert

     
7

Attending a classical concert

     
8

Listening to recorded pop music

     
9

Learning irregular verbs in a foreign language

     
10

Learning how to eat oysters

     
11

Cooking a new dish

     
12

Experiencing bereavement

     
13

A lecture on the staff appraisal scheme

     
14

Looking up the winner of the 1972 FA Cup Final

     
15

A TV documentary on the political situation in Burma

     
16

Reading Inland Revenue advice on self-assessment

     
17

A social argument about religion

     
18

Reading Jane Austen for pleasure

     
19

Being initiated into a cult

     
20

This session!

     

Embedded in the items are issues about culture, learning, "seriousness", and so on

What's behind this?

I had been using exercises like this for ten years or more before I realised they had some theoretical justification. And that is the way of things. In teaching, theory seeks to account for the success (or failure) of practice. Very rarely does it explicitly lead and suggest practice (at least, in the real world, as opposed to policy initiatives). But that is not to say theory is useless. It is after all usually derived from distilled practice. It can provide a bare-bones account of how something is working and hence show how some specific approach or exercise can be ported from one subject area to another, or developed further to concentrate on a particular aspect of learning...

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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