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Four mechanisms that facilitate learning in the social sciences

The writers of Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga ā Iwi: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration [BES] identify four mechanisms that facilitate learning for diverse students in social sciences: connection, alignment, community, and interest.

Each of these mechanisms provides a lens through which we can examine our current practice. Each is backed by evidence that we can use when deciding what to do next.

Make connections to students’ lives

This mechanism particularly involves:

  • drawing on relevant content
  • ensuring inclusive content.

Students’ understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher:

  • encourages them to use their own experiences as a point of comparison when learning about other people’s experiences in different times, places, and cultures
  • uses language that is inclusive of all learners and their experiences
  • selects resources that make diversity visible and avoid biased and stereotypical representations.

The connections mechanism at work in media studies

Students are more likely to achieve in media studies when they see themselves and their cultures positively reflected in the subject matter and learning contexts and when they have an active role in selecting, creating, and producing media texts from their own investigations, experiences, or interests.

Examples of teacher and student actions

  • Investigate the use of media among the students and use this to introduce the key media concepts of mediation and communication.
  • Visit a local radio station to introduce them to the concept of target audience.
  • Investigate student choices and understandings of different types of television programmes to introduce the concept of genre.
  • Investigate why we choose particular magazines. This could be a starting point for co-constructing the learning intentions for exploring conventions in print media.
  • Identify cultural diversity in their classroom through their own media use and that of their family/whānau. Use this information to build a ‘bank’ of media texts that could be investigated as part of a unit of work.
  • Identify the cultural diversity in their classroom or college and link this to exploring local and global media industries and the products they produce, looking at unique dimensions and cultural universals.
  • Investigate and produce their own media texts using te reo Māori, or other first languages, to consider ways that the product can reach a wider audience.
  • Discuss the students’ media use and plan a unit about teenage media consumption, which explores and challenges their original ideas.
  • Explore the representation of Pasifika New Zealanders and Māori in the media and reflect, in an online journal, on the impact of such representations for the group and other New Zealanders.

Align experiences to important outcomes

This mechanism particularly involves:

  • identifing prior knowledge
  • aligning activities and resources to intended outcomes
  • providing opportunities to revisit concepts and learning processes
  • attending to the learning of individual students.

Student understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher accesses relevant prior knowledge, using it to minimise duplication of what is already known and address misunderstandings that could inhibit new learning. If important outcomes are to be achieved, activities and resources need to be aligned to them.

Teachers optimise alignment when they make it transparent to their students, design learning opportunities that are sequenced in response to ongoing assessment, and provide opportunities to revisit important content and processes.

The alignment mechanism at work in media studies

Effective teaching activities build on the intended learning and the key concepts, and are developed in the light of what students already know.

For example, a foundation skill of media studies is the acquisition and development of critical analysis skills through the close reading and production of media texts. Identify what students already know about critical analysis, and can do, and plan activities in response to this. Students need repeated opportunities to develop and apply these skills in a variety of contexts.

Examples of teacher and student actions

  • Use extracts of media texts that have been contentious in terms of censorship issues (current and contextual information available from  The Office of Film & Literature Classification) to lead a discussion about mediation and the value and impact of censorship in New Zealand.
  • Use a variety of advertisements from television in the 1960s and 1990s to lead a discussion and critical analysis about the representation of women in New Zealand. Establish what students already know about gender in advertising and then develop a visual representation of the changes for comparison.
  • Consider students’ understanding of cultural stereotypes in New Zealand and the way the media affects these by using a variety of New Zealand film extracts (from before and after Once Were Warriors) to lead a discussion and critical analysis of the representation of Māori.
  • Provide opportunities for students to develop understanding of a text, for example, through viewing sections of a film and having students recreate and then peer critique it on camera or a storyboard.
  • Design a radio show or create an online blog or magazine article for their college to learn about copyright and creative commons in relation to their rights and responsibilities. They then show how they have acted on this learning in their work.

Build and sustain a learning community

This mechanism particularly involves:

  • establishing productive teacher–student relationships
  • promoting dialogue
  • sharing power with students.

Student understanding of important ideas and processes in the social sciences is enhanced when teachers:

  • establish productive relationships with students
  • explicitly develop their students’ interaction skills
  • put in place inclusive practices that acknowledge multiple abilities and contributions
  • delegate to students authority to make decisions about their learning
  • design tasks and organise experiences that require student–student dialogue and interaction.

The community mechanism at work in media studies

Students often hold highly personalised and passionate opinions about the media (such as a particular genre of film or a favourite television programme) and they need to feel that it is safe to share, propose, and critique diverse ideas, texts, values, and beliefs. Given that media texts themselves are contextualised socially and politically, a supportive learning environment will foster tolerance and acceptance of difference and diversity.

Plan for and encourage student-centred collaboration. Help students to identify and assign roles, and act coherently, as part of a group, particularly when it comes to high-stakes production activities.

Examples of teacher and student actions

  • Use dialogue to sustain collaborative learning/ akō: negotiate learning outcomes and success criteria.
  • Develop the learning outcome(s) together, making links to the key concepts and what students already understand.
  • Give students time to process their learning and put it into practice.
  • Provide regular feedback to help students see how well they are progressing towards the learning outcomes.
  • Help students lead their own learning; ask them to explain their goals and how they will reach them.
  • Give students time to act on feedback, and provide further feedback on that action.
  • Work in groups to identify which aspects of texts create particular audience reactions (popularity, controversy, falling appeal). Formulate guiding questions for further inquiry. For example, students may recognise that people like the horror genre because it makes them feel safe as the fear is lived through fantasy.
  • Work together to create their own analysis of a film genre to identify and critique genre change. They could present their findings to the class.
  • Establish their own success criteria for judging ‘polished products’. They create their own film festival/Oscars committee to critique one another’s media productions and provide feedback prior to finalising the products for publication or broadcast. They could then compare their developed criteria with the assessment requirements for NCEA.
  • Collaborate to design a music video featuring, and collaboratively produced with, their school’s kapa haka group.

Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success: The Māori Education Strategy 2008–2012 (Ministry of Education, 2008) suggested that involving students in decision making about their learning invites their commitment to the learning.

Learn more about Ka Hikitia in the updated  Māori Education Strategy: Ka Hikitia  Accelerating Success 2013–2017.

Design experiences that interest students

This mechanism particularly involves:

  • meeting diverse motivational needs
  • maximising student interest
  • using a variety of activities.

Student understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher:

  • makes learning as memorable as possible by deliberately designing learning experiences that are sensitive to students’ differing interests, motivations, and responses
  • provides a variety of experiences that become memorable anchors for learning and subsequent recall
  • helps students draw the learning from these experiences.

The interest mechanism at work in media studies

Students are more interested in media studies when text selections, activities, and learning opportunities are relevant to them and their cultural contexts. Students want to have some personal investment in their own learning programmes and to be challenged with new perspectives, knowledge and skills.

Examples of teacher and student actions

  • Undertake regular surveys of students’ interests, skills, motivations, future aspirations, and technology use and use this data to identify with students what skills and knowledge they possess against those they wish to acquire.
  • Identify areas of interest in contemporary media issues/debates/controversies in each unit and decide together where these could be included for exploration in units of work.
  • Select students' own film choices (for example, from YouTube) and explain why they think these are significant to media debates. They then use these as a basis for exploring relevant key concepts. For example, in terms of the concept of communication, how does the cartoon contribute to our discussion of children and television viewing? How does the satire contribute to our understanding of the sitcom genre?

Last updated August 20, 2019