University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Teaching Like a Girl: Student Reflection of the Benefits and Challenges of Feminist Pedagogy
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Teaching "Like a Girl": Student Reflection of
the Benefits and Challenges of Feminist Pedagogy

By: Ashley Torres | Faculty Mentor: Dr. Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés

Assignments

In my four-year experience as an English Literature major at UCF, literature courses are generally not usually assignment-heavy, but reading the material is a major portion of the work alongside essays, especially in upper-level courses. Discussion postings and essays are the two methods that are the most frequently used to grade student work and participation in hybrid courses. It is assumed that students come to class having read the material, though this is truer for upper-level courses as opposed to 3000-level courses that students of every major are welcome to take. Due to the fact that i>clickers were used in this course, it provided non-literature majors with enough grades to track their personal progress. Students tend to feel worried when there are not enough graded assignments to balance their overall grade in the course. Specifically, if there are only essay assignments, then students worry that they have to do very well on the essays in order to earn a good grade. For students who are not accustomed to writing literary critical research essays, this can be a daunting task, although students were encouraged to seek feedback from the instructors or the University Writing Center.

I felt that Women in Literature had assignments that were effective in both providing students with enough grades and challenging us. Most importantly, these assignments were in line with feminist pedagogy and classroom objectives. Specifically, the three literary critical essays we were required to write gave us a chance to use a readerresponse critique of two assigned works at a time. In this essay format, we could compare and contrast novels, essays, poems, etc. while still being able to express how we related to them or how they related to the world. For the third and final literary critical essay, Dr. Rodríguez Milanés offered an alternative assignment titled Oral History Literacy Assignment in which students were allowed to interview a woman in their life for an hour and then write an essay detailing the interview and the importance of that woman's life and history with literacy. I particularly enjoyed this assignment even though I opted for another research paper because it allowed students to look outside themselves and more profoundly understand the adversity the average woman must go through. Furthermore, students were invited to share their oral histories in class. In the context of everything that we learned in the course about inequality in gender and race, this practice was an original alternative to essay writing that expanded student empathy and personal involvement.

On the back of every essay we turned in, we answered three memo questions that involved a good amount of self-assessment and critique, an important aspect of feminist pedagogy as well. Here is an example of two memo questions I answered for one of my essays:

1. What was the most interesting thing I learned writing this paper?

The most interesting thing I learned is that Judith Ortiz Cofer still comes face to face with discrimination, especially in the work place. Since I am a Latina, I can relate in many ways so it's sad to learn that these stereotypes of Latinas being unintelligent and sexually desperate are still really prevalent in this society although many Latinas prove to be otherwise. I like that Cofer's response to that is to continue to be herself and give her audience a more realistic view of the world and of Hispanic women.

2. What does this paper deserve? Grade it and justify the grade.

I think that my paper deserves an A because I did better than last time – this paper analyzes how both Judith Ortiz Cofer and Lucille Clifton use different mediums (a short story and a poem) to reach the same goal. Both hope to eliminate negative stereotypes of women of color by portraying them realistically. I used many in-text citations and tried to make it as cohesive as possible.

The memo questions were honestly seeking students' attitudes on the assignments and encouraged selfreflection. I especially liked the question about what we found most interesting because it made me reflect on what I had learned, rather than just turn in an essay and forget about the topic after it was done.

Just as self-critique is important in feminist pedagogy, peer-critique is also vital so that students can learn how their peers understand their work and work together to promote the understanding of the class as a whole. Another assignment we had in Women in Literature , for example, was an online group presentation on any female author the group decided on. My group chose Jane Austen and we communicated via Webcourses@ UCF. Online, we chose individual tasks to complete and e-mailed one person the separate parts of the assignment to organize. I put together a single Prezi presentation, a slideshow, and posted it on Webcourses@UCF so all the group members could review it. Once we uploaded our presentation, Dr. Rodríguez Milanés told the class the presentations were ready to be evaluated. Classmates would view each slideshow, then anonymously submit a survey that asked them to evaluate the performance of each separate student in the group and assign a score for the group presentation as a whole. Dr. Rodríguez Milanés then averaged her grade, the TA's grade, and the students' grades to produce the grade we received, which reflected what everyone in the entire classroom felt we deserved. I really liked that I could individually review the author presentations because it made me feel that my opinion was important for the success and growth of the class – this is a method by which students can feel valued as important members of the learning environment in which they share power with their instructor, proving that their engagement can literally change the flow of the class.

Overall, the assignments in this course were helpful in carrying out feminist pedagogical tenets like legitimizing personal experience, learning about underrepresented groups (women/women of color), and self and peerreview. The assignments also made the teacher and students personally responsible for maintaining a postpositivist environment where education could grow in a liberatory way.

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