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

Women in Literature

This section will analyze the course Women in Literature. I will first review the syllabus and expectations held by the professor and will then analyze the challenges met and faced with her method of teaching, feminist pedagogy. Finally, with the anonymous midterm survey and Student Perception of Instruction Survey, I will discuss the level of success met by this course by the standards of both students and feminist pedagogy, a method of teaching meant to be beneficial and fulfilling for both students and teachers alike.

Women in Literature was a large class with an enrollment cap of 100 students that met twice a week for fifty minutes and had an online component to supplement weekly discussions. Each student individually read required texts as well as texts chosen by the class via polling, which will be discussed later in the essay. The core texts were all books by women of different ethnicities and the content spanned several genres. These books were Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and How We Became Human by Joy Harjo. Other texts were readily available as PDFs or links via the online component of the course. This ease of access was particularly beneficial as it allowed students of every major to feel comfortable finding the assigned readings.

According to the syllabus, the main objectives of the class were to (1) be able to read and understand common themes, symbols, and ideas expressed by women writers, (2) understand how the political, social, and culture contributions of women in society have influenced the style and content of their literature, (3) engage in creative and analytical writing related to the content, readings and discussions, (4) learn about the various literary backgrounds informing the work of some major women writers of the twentieth century, and (5) explore aesthetic, historical, sociopolitical, and cultural issues related to Women in Literature (Rodríguez Milanés).

Due to the large size of this class (in terms of the number of students and the physical space of a large lecture hall), the first challenge both the professor and students had to face was trying to find a way in which discussions could be held in such a manner that every person felt that she or he would be heard. Some students chose to sit in the back of the auditorium, which created an additional challenge to ensure even minimal engagement. An important aspect of feminist pedagogy is engagement because it assures that there is a general understanding of shared knowledge, thus allowing classroom discussions to go further and deeper. Our large classroom thus faced the challenge of creating an engaging and post-positivist environment. According to Chick and Hassel's essay "'Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual': Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom," post-positivist knowledge is knowledge that "is growing, forming, evolving" (203). This means that the voices of student and teacher are equal and that a conversation between the two can exist in tandem in order for educational and personal growth to occur. The online portion of this class thus allowed for students who engaged less in the classroom to participate more freely without the worry of being called on in a class of over 50 students or conversely not being called upon to speak.

In general, large lecture sections pose challenges to active participation – whether it's due to seating arrangements or time limits that don't accommodate large classroom size. Some students opt out of face-to-face interaction altogether and prefer online discussions. In this class, the use of a classroom response system (CRS) using i>clickers helped to solve this engagement challenge and achieve some of the primary goals of feminist pedagogy by providing the opportunity for all students to anonymously "voice" their views when polled. Classroom discussion is paramount for a classroom nurturing feminist pedagogical ideologies because one of the main tenets of feminist theory holds that knowledge should be participatory and egalitarian.

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