Teaching and Learning

Ideas and support material for teaching, learning and assessment can be accessed here.

Effective engagement with the subject will need classrooms where

  • the classroom environment is experienced by learners as a warm and caring environment in which students can express their opinion honestly and where trying things, making mistakes and learning from them is regarded as welcome
  • clear learning goals are communicated to learners and they can clarify these goals for themselves through application and feedback
  • learners have opportunities to make learning meaningful to themselves by applying concepts and ideas to different real-life contexts and through working with peers to develop their understanding of ideas
  • learners receive feedback which tells them clearly what learning goals they have achieved, what areas they need to work on, and how they might work on those areas
  • there is a focus on learning how to learn, and on students taking control of and responsibility for their own learning.

Such an environment can often be built upon assessment for learning approaches, which are essentially about using assessment in the classroom as a tool to improve students' learning, and are characterised by activities such as:

  • sharing learning intentions with learners
  • helping learners to recognise standards they are aiming for through providing clear criteria for success or exemplification
  • involving learners in assessing their own learning
  • providing feedback which helps learners to recognise what they must do to reach the desired standards
  • communicating to every learner a sense of confidence that they can improve
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment.

While a wide range of participatory and enquiry-focused teaching and learning activities are appropriate for Politics and Society a number of specific methodologies may prove particularly valuable for supporting learning. These include discussion and debate, the use of a variety of contemporary media, data collection and analysis, portfolios and reflective journals.

Discussion and debate

Central to Politics and Society is the idea that learners should be exposed to competing ideas about their world, have an opportunity to apply these ideas and to evaluate them in light of the evidence that is available, and to come to conclusions. As a consequence, discussion, deliberation and debate are important learning methodologies for Politics and Society. More generally, the ability to constructively engage in debate as a means of coming to reflective and informed positions is a central skill for democratic participation.

At their most basic, debates are a series of formal spoken arguments for and against a definite proposal. While debates can be valuable for developing skills of analysis, critical awareness and appreciation of differing points of view, the development of these skills will be dependent upon the way in which the debate is structured and upon the broader classroom environment within which debates happen. It is sometimes valuable to distinguish between the method of debate and its end goal. In Politics and Society the method will involve different learners in forming arguments that are supported by data, listening to and critiquing the arguments of others and responding to those arguments constructively. The end goal should be for everyone to move towards a more reflective and informed conclusion (rather than for one side to ‘win’ and for the other side to ‘lose’). It is important to remember that cooperative learning approaches have a greater positive impact upon student learning than competitive learning; therefore debates should be structured within the context of a cooperative learning environment. Discussions also create the possibility for different ideas to compete with each other. However they typically do so in a less-structured context than is used for debate. Like debate, discussions should also take place within a cooperative learning environment.

The skills needed to participate in discussion and debate are the same as those for communicating with others outlined in strand 2. Such skills will often need to be demonstrated to learners and practised by them, and small-group settings are often ideal for enabling all learners to participate in debate, to practice their skills and get feedback on them. Mixed-ability small groups can be particularly effective in supporting a range of abilities within a class. When learners work in groups, the tasks set should be devised so as to ensure that successful completion of the task will require input and participation from all group members. This will encourage participation of all group members and will also highlight the importance of listening skills to group members.

Use of a variety of contemporary media

Learners will gather information about their social and political world from a variety of media, including print media (such as books, newspapers and magazines), broadcast media (television and radio) as well as a range of other digital media, such as websites, social media and online publications. These categories are not mutually exclusive in that print and broadcast media locally and from around the world can be accessed through digital media. One of the key concerns of Politics and Society is that the learner develops the ability to identify different perspectives that underpin arguments presented in such media. Learning outcomes specifically related to this goal are found in sections 2.6 and 4.4 and more generally throughout the specification . The use and analysis of the messages presented in a wide variety of media also enables teachers to select current issues and contexts in which the ideas and concepts of Politics and Society can be explored.

Learners can engage with a variety of contemporary media in a number of ways, including:

  • the analysis of the images, messages, perspectives and assumptions about social and political issues that are found in different media
  • the critical analysis of how evidence and data is used to support particular arguments in such media
  • the generation of their own media content (for example newsletters, blogs or wikis) in order to come to understand the process through which media content is generated
  • consideration of the bias of the media
  • the use of communication technologies as a medium for discussing and coming to understand concepts and ideas from Politics and Society (such as through online discussion forums, the collaborative development of presentations, the development of wikis or the use of social media).

ICT can be used to support other approaches to learning. For example, portfolios or reflective journals can be kept and managed in electronic format while data collected during small research projects can be analysed using spreadsheets or word-processing software.

Data collection and analysis

Developing in learners the skills of analysing and interpreting data is an important objective of Politics and Society. In this regard, Politics and Society will build upon the skills of collecting and analysing data that students develop through the study of mathematics. An experience in collecting and analysing both qualitative and quantitative data can enable learners to understand the use of data in social and political sciences from the inside. A small research project on one of the concepts or ideas in Politics and Society will also enable learners to relate the idea to concrete contexts with which they are familiar and so enhance their learning. Such a small research project might then form the basis of a learner’s citizenship project for assessment towards the Leaving Certificate.

The development of a small research project will typically move through a number of stages:

  • design stage, in which the learners will identify the ideas they are to study, clarify them, decide how to make them operational, develop a mechanism for collecting data (such as a survey for quantitative data or an interview schedule or observation protocol for qualitative data) and apply a mechanism for identifying research subjects/participants (for example by random sampling for quantitative data or by key informant selection for qualitative data).
  • data collection stage, in which learners will collect data (such as by administering a survey, by carrying out interviews or observations)
  • data analysis stage, in which learners will collate their evidence, draw conclusions from it, and rigorously check the extent to which their data and research design supports such conclusions
  • write-up stage, in which learners will  decide  on  key  points  to  be communicated and will then present their findings using text, images and basic statistics in a way that communicates these findings effectively.

By participating in this type of small research project, learners will gain an understanding of some of the key issues that impact on the quality of conclusions that can be drawn from data.  This will, in turn, support them in being able to critically evaluate a  piece of research that they have not previously seen, making reference to the quality of the evidence and the conclusions drawn from the study (a learning outcome that is referenced in sections 2.5; 6.1; 7.5 and 8.2 of the strands of study).

Reflective Practice 

Reflective practice is important for both students and teachers. Reflection on learning can be supported by the use of portfolios and/or journals. In addition to supporting formative assessment, these can also help in preparation for summative assessment. 

Portfolios

Skills development is an integral part of Politics and Society. Skills such as communicating, working with others, and working with and analysing information from social scientific research are central to Politics and Society. Such skills may be related to, but at the same time distinct from, the way in which people already use such skills in everyday life. For example, while people may communicate within groups in everyday life, they might not do so in a way which shows a capacity to listen carefully to other points of view, to develop empathy and see alternative perspectives and to express emotion in appropriate ways. In order to be clear about the precise meaning of the skills being developed through Politics and Society a precise set of learning outcomes for each of these skills is clearly laid out in the specification.  This will allow learners to be clear about what is expected of them.

In order to develop such skills, learners will need opportunities to practice them. Such practice will often initially happen in classroom contexts. Teachers may clarify the skill that is to be learned, demonstrate it to learners, and provide an opportunity for guided practice of the skill and for formative feedback. Ultimately, learners will need to practice such skills independently in their life outside of the Politics and Society classroom.

Portfolios provide a structured approach for learners to identify how the skills, concepts and ideas of Politics and Society can be related to their own life. As such they are related to, but are often more structured than, reflective journals. A portfolio could include a selection of the learning outcomes for Politics and Society as well as spaces for learners to document how they are demonstrating in practice the skills described in the Politics and Society learning outcomes; what they are learning about how to develop these skills; and the extent to which these skills are improved and perfected over time.

Such a portfolio can be an invaluable tool in enabling learners to plan their own learning (for example, through identifying what skills they still need to develop and using this to choose an activity that will allow them to demonstrate the skills), to monitor their own learning and to evaluate their own learning. The skills of planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning are strongly associated with developing the ability to learn how to learn, one of the goals of senior-cycle education more generally.

Portfolios can play an important role in enabling learners to collect evidence about their own learning, and may be used, for example, as a way of documenting their learning of the skills of working with others and of being personally effective when working in communities; skills that will ultimately be assessed as part of the citizenship project.

 

Reflective journals

Politics and Society aims to enable learners to apply the concepts and ideas of social and political sciences when engaging in active and reflective citizenship in communities. In this way, ideas that appear on a superficial viewing as abstract—such as power, democracy, identity and human rights—should come to be seen to have a direct bearing on the lives and everyday decisions of the learner. This is sometimes referred to as developing the ability to see ‘the general in the particular’.

Learners will learn to apply these concepts to their everyday life by being given the opportunity to do so. Politics and Society has been structured as an exploration of ideas from social and political sciences in the context of young people’s own lives. Many of the contexts chosen for attention (decision-making in schools, government policies that impact upon young people, decisions as to what is and is not in their curriculum, what young people buy and how they engage in charity or volunteering work and so on) will allow young people to start by looking at their own experience and then applying concepts and ideas to that experience.

In practice, this can mean learners starting by reflecting upon and documenting their own experiences in a reflective journal. This can be seen by taking the example of one of the learning outcomes addressed in section 1.1, 'Students should be able to describe the processes of power and decision-making in their school …in relation to one aspect of school rules related to safety, for example, policies on fighting or bullying'. Engagement with the topic may begin with learners reflecting upon a situation in which personal safety was an issue for them in school, and on who was  involved in making decisions about the rules that related to that situation. Learners can then relate back to this when trying to apply the ideas and concepts about power and participation in decision-making that are developed throughout topic 1. Entries in the reflective journal may be revised and reviewed by learners as they further develop their understandings of relevant concepts, ideas and data.

In Politics and Society learners will sometimes be dealing with issues that are personal to them. This means that whatever the methodology employed, there is a need for attention to be paid to creating an environment of safety within which learners can engage with issues. Learners will learn the skills of creating a safe and constructive working group environment throughout this course and particularly in strand 2 of Politics and Society. In the case of reflective journals, it would be appropriate from the outset to discuss and agree the boundaries of what is shared in such journal entries.  These might include:

  • learners recognising how much they want to share and their right not be asked to share more than they wish to
  • learners being respectful in relation to each other’s reflections
  • learners  being  able  to  challenge  assumptions  and  perspectives  in  each other’s reflections in a constructive way.

An awareness of such boundaries will often form the basis of working in a whole range of subjects that raise personal issues for learners (religious education, English and Social Personal and Health Education for example) and is closely linked to ensuring that the classroom environment is experienced by learners as a warm and caring environment in which trying things, making mistakes and learning from them is welcome.