1. Literacy in Sociology Guidance Notes #5
Issues to consider
Evaluation is all about ‘assessment’. It is about taking an idea/argument and ‘weighing up’ how useful it is
for sociologists. This is a high order skill (more intellectually demanding) because it asks you to do more
than just know about something. With time, we can all be ‘human photocopiers’ and regurgitate what we
have learnt during a course and if we organise it a certain way, we can trap marks for interpretation and
application. However, evaluation is a different kettle of fish. For evaluation you need to stand back and
not just critically examine the arguments that you are presenting, but also be evaluative in terms of the
set question. This skill is also about considering strengths alongside weaknesses, and the need to be
balanced throughout answers.
1. Take time to consider ‘Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy’
Your teachers know about the work of Bloom, as do the awarding bodies who set your exams, and
actually you know about this too (although not by name). Basically, Bloom produced a taxonomy
(classifications) for different learning objectives. To you and me, this means different learning goals in
lessons and ultimately different things that you do. Think of these as being skills, which we teachers
highlight in our plans in terms like, ‘To enable the student to……’.
Some of these skills are more complex and ‘higher order’ than others. Evaluation is quite high up in
Bloom’s taxonomy as it is more demanding (and hence is an explicit feature of top band answers!)
Here is a very simplistic outline of Bloom’s taxonomy just to give you a sense of what it is and where
evaluation fits into it all.
6.Evaluation The ability to exercise learned judgements
5.Synthesis The ability to create new relationships between ideas/arguments etc
4.Analysis The ability to determine relationships between ideas/arguments etc
3.Application The ability to use generalisations in specific contexts
2.Comprehension The ability to translate/interpret and Extrapolate
1.Knowledge The ability to recall and recognition
Obviously, evaluation isn’t possible without having knowledge and understanding in place first.
With that said, if you crack evaluation, you will produce answers of a high quality.
2. Teachers use Bloom in many ways - such as setting lesson objectives and planning activities and planning
their discussions with you.
The Awarding Bodies do so also when they set you different questions to assess different skills.
Look at these three questions and think about which of the above 6 skills could be being assessed:
Explain what is meant by net migration (2 marks) – knowledge recall
Identify three ways in which greater ethnic diversity has contributed to family diversity(Item 2A).
(6 marks) – knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis
Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the view that the modern family has
become more child-centred. (24 marks) – all six skills
The point being made here is that different questions are designed to test specific skills and you need
to consider where to do this and how you can do this.
A final word on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Your teacher’s use this every day, and you should be aware of this so
that you can practice developing this skill. It may be in a written task (individual or group based), such as
making a presentation and you being asked to explain the main contributions of an argument, ie) in what
ways does the concept of SFP help us to understand underachievement at school? (this is a judgement
call – you are being asked to ‘weigh up’ what is good about the concept).
However, it is in discussions and what we call Q&A (question and answer sessions) where this skill is really
played out. Here are some typical teacher-style questions which you may want to consider in your written
work to enhance your answers:
Do you agree with …..? What is your opinion of…? How can you prove/disprove..?
Would it be better if..? What would you recommend…? What could you cite to
What are the key arguments for Can you assess the value/ Which do you think is the strongest idea
and against..? importance of…? and why?
2. What does this add?’
Ask the question ‘what does this add to …..the debate/our understanding of..?’ when exploring an
idea/argument. This will help you to highlight the strengths and relevance of a point….especially the ‘add’ bit
which is about usefulness too.
3. Evaluation charts
A simple but effective method to use throughout a course to tease out help consolidate and focus on
strengths/weakness etc. This can be used for assessing theories and methods in a clear and focused manner.
3. There is little explanation to offer here, other than to share an example of a filled in template.
Area of focus Participant Observation
Details This is a type of observation where the researcher takes part in the situations that they are observing. In
other words they are observing and participating also.
Participant observation can be overt (this is where we people know that they are being watched) or
covert (this is undercover and people are unaware that they are being observed).
Researchers find themselves almost ‘living amongst’ the group that they are studying and for quite a
This method is used by interpretivistic sociologists who are trying to find detailed meanings behind
people’s behaviour. It is a qualitative method that reveals much about the experiences of social groups.
Illustrations/ Laud Humphries in ‘Tearoom Trade’. He went undercover in public toilets in the USA,where he
evidence developed a greater understanding of the experiences and lifestyles surrounding ‘gay liaisons in
such places. He took on the role of the ‘watch queen’ and kept a look-out for approaching strangers.
He discovered that most of the men involved were not homosexual but in fact ‘straight men’ in search of a gay
Eileen Barker in ‘The Making of a Moonie’ went undercover with the Moonies cult to find out how far they
actually did brainwash their members.
James Patrick in ‘A Glasgow Gang Observed’ became involved with a gang of violent young criminals in Scotland.
He spent many hours with them to try and understand how and why they performed the crimes that they did.
Evaluation Strengths Weaknesses
People can be studied in their natural It is hard to gain entry to groups.
It is hard to record information, such as
Researchers can see things from the taking notes. A researcher’s memory may
point of view of the observed and not be accurate.
therefore have a deeper understanding
of those observed...verstehen. Researchers may put themselves at risk.
This data gathered is seen as more It takes a lot of time and commitment and
VALID as it is a true reflection of the quite expensive.
actually people and their lives.
A researcher may ‘go native’ and become
It allows researchers to explore more too involved with the group. This may lead
secretive groups and their lifestyles. to them becoming biased.
The presence of the researcher may
influence the group and they may change
their behaviour. This is called the ‘observer
You cannot repeat this form of study
accurately. Hard to test the results.
4. 4.Ask critical questions
These are referred to in the ‘top tips’ series, but here is a bit more flesh on the bones.
Is the concept/argument still Does postmodernism How would theory X see this
relevant? (historical change/ challenge this argument in idea/argument?
real life events) any way?
Take an point, ie) Marxist hidden curriculum
Look at the age of a study. How has the social structure and ask how a Functionalist would view this
What was the context of it changed ? differently, who wants a docile workforce?
How has the group/ How have meanings changed?
institution etc changed over
time? Do traditional categories still
stand, ie gender?
Has globalisation impacted on
an area being studied?
What methodology has theory Is the concept a contested one –
X Is there a ‘division line’ surrounding
depended on and what problems there different definitions
are an issue, ie) conflict v consensus,
does this (and are there implications for its structurevs action, in-school vs out of school
raise ? measurement/evidence of it)? – that you can hinge a debate around?
Think basically in terms of Take a term like secularisation If a question asks you about ‘assess
structural theories = macro studies =
and unpack the different the extent to which….’ Consider
trends but ignores definitions and consequent other factors and viewpoints.
interactions and meanings. measurement.
See CAF below
What about ‘what is a family?
and the assumptions
Is there a gender/ethnicity/ Any cross cultural contrasts? Always ask ‘what has this concept/
class dimension that a given theory/study/ method ignored/left out?’
approach is not considering? Is a particular idea/theory
relevant to all societies? The key here is to think about other
This is usually the case where certain theories and what they offer instead, then
groups are ‘invisible’ in There is a tendency for us to and then stress this as a limitation.
studies, ie) women/ethnic write in an ethnocentric manner
minorities. with a western European slant.
5. 5.CAFs (Consider All Factors)
Basically, when preparing an answer consider relevant points and their ‘missingness’:
Explanation/idea Details But what’s missing?
6.Places for evaluation
Good evaluation will appear in various forms:
Explicit evaluation throughout an answer – this will occur ‘inside’ a paragraph close to the point
being made (and is generally a critical point). It may happen in a mini-paragraph just after a
paragraph exploring a specific argument.
Contrasting perspectives – this will occur when you use more than one theory against another to
show differences. The obvious candidates here are using Marxism to challenge Functionalism where
possible. This could be in the form of a paragraph following an argument, usually starting with a link
phrase like, ‘The main drawbacks in this approach are highlighted by …x…who note….’.
Discursive/analysis evaluation – see the SA paragraph guide. This is where you set aside a specific
space in answer to ‘unpack the issues’ and discuss problems/considerations/alternatives/dilemmas
etc. This is always a good place to bring in ‘real life’ and current affairs.