What would you think if a member or members of your class put their heads down on the desk and fell asleep during your lesson? Sleeping certainly falls outside of the expected behaviours for a classroom, so after your annoyance gives way to concern you may be thinking that this student is experiencing insomnia at night or perhaps even feeling depressed and lacking the motivation to maintain focus. We would be unlikely to consider this “normal” behaviour.
I stumbled across an intriguing photograph of an entire class asleep at their classroom desks on the Guardian’s website. This photo is part of a series of 15 pictures of classrooms from around the world (“Quiet at the back: classrooms around the world – in pictures”; photos by Julian Germain; 14th September 2012) which have scope for a number of uses in the classroom across the school. This photo struck me particularly because the behaviour depicted illustrates the need to consider culture and context when judging behaviour as normal or abnormal. In the case of these students not sleeping would have be the abnormal behaviour, the sleeping simply a cultural phenomenon.
AQA A: AS, Unit 2 – Psychopathology
In Unit 2 of their AS studies students following AQA spec A will become familiar with 3 definitions of abnormality (deviation from social norms, deviation from ideal mental health and failure to function adequately) and the limitations of these definitions. In the case of “deviation from social norms” it is useful to have examples of behaviours that might be considered normal in one context or culture and not in another to demonstrate the relativity of norms. A discussion based on this photograph should lead students to discussing cultural relativity and the importance of context.
The idea that follows is one suggestion of how this photograph might be used as a learning resource.
Using the picture as a classroom resource
Display the photo (number 12 of the 15) of sleeping students in a school in Taiwan and ask students 4 questions:
- What is happening in this picture?
- Where is this happening?
- What might have happened before?
- What might happen next?
This could be a lesson starter activity. Ask students what they would think if they walked past a classroom and saw this in their school/college. Is this normal or abnormal? Explain the context once a discussion has taken place (outlined with the photo) and then discuss the issues it raises. Go on to discuss the definitions of abnormality and ask students to identify which definition this example poses difficulties for.
Thinking ahead to A2 Psychology
If you plan to teach biological rhythms and sleep for A2, you could drop in the idea that the dip after lunch in body temperature means that sleeping at this time is actually quite good idea as a teaser for this topic. You could even discuss this example of sleeping in relation to cultural differences in sleep patterns.