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Using Material from Item a and Elsewhere, Assess the Strengths and Limitations of Participant Observation for the Study of Gender Relations in Schools.

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Item A

How male and female pupils and teachers act towards each other has a major effect on pupils experiences of education. Sociologists are interested in the reason why gender relations take the form they do and their relationship to classroom interaction, subject choice, achievement and identity.

Gender relations affect many areas of school life, such as parents evenings governors meetings, senior management decision making, appointments and promotions, as well interactions in the classroom and staff room

schools have gender equality policies. As a result, pupils and teachers may disguise their real attitudes towards gender and this may make it difficult for the researcher to get at the truth.

Sociologists are interested in the reasons for gender differences in subject choice. These include primary socialisation in the home peer group pressure, subject images and gender career opportunities.

Question:

Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of gender relations in schools.

There are two types of observation, covert and overt. The difference between them is that covert observation is when the people being observed do not know they’re being watched or studied, and overt observation is when they have been told and given consent to be observed by the researcher.
Observation can also be done in two ways. This is called participant and non-participant observation. In participant observation the observer joins a group and observes their activities, while at the same time taking care to observe what is going on. Often that means writing notes and reflections later on.
In Non Participant observation, the sociologist simply observes the activities, but doesn’t take part in them. For example OFSTED; he or she is watching the lesson you are in, but they aren’t teaching, and they aren’t acting as a student. Everyone knows why they are there and often wish they weren’t observing them.
A strength of participant observation is validity. It gives us an authentic understanding of the world views of social actors. This understanding is particularly important when researching issues such as classroom interaction and gender relations in schools. The power difference between young people and adults is a major barrier to uncovering the real attitudes and behavior of pupils. They may present a false image when being observed by an adult researcher, thus undermining validity. Nevertheless, observation is more likely than most methods to overcome this problem, because it gives the researcher the opportunity to gain acceptance by pupils.
A limitation is the Hawthorne effect. This is when people know they are being observed and act differently than they normally would in that situation. It is very difficult to carry out covert observation of educational settings, especially classrooms. This is because there are few cover roles the researcher can adopt and because he or she stands out as being much older than pupils. This means that most classroom observation are being conducted as overt observations.

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