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What would you want to see in a feminist classroom?

(56 Posts)
LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 08:02:29

I've been reading a lot of blogs about teaching in HE recently, which I won't link to because 99% of what they're talking about isn't really relevant. But I've noticed there's a big thing in US universities about how important it is to actively try to teach a 'feminist classroom'.

It's not about teaching feminist theory, or insisting all your students use that one ideology - it seems to be about ways to even out the different kinds of privilege different students may have.

I thought it was a really great idea. It got me thinking of how people say that schools are very biased towards girls (which I'm not sure I believe, and which wouldn't be 'feminist' if it were true). So, how would you construct a classroom that was genuinely 'feminist', in the sense of evening out privilege and making a space where everyone's voice can be heard?

I think if we could do it, it would have such a long-term impact - because I do believe adult women suffer when they're not given the tools of debating and confident speaking. And I do believe men and women are rewarded differently for the same kind of speech.

I have lots of ideas and I'd like to know what you think would be good, or what you think is bad in schools you know of/were in.

The most basic thing I do is body language and eye contact - if I am teaching a class where a student is very dominant of the discussion but not actually making good points or helpful interaction with the others, I stop making eye contact and I angle away from them. It feels very odd the first few times but it seems to work to stop the other students from feeling they have to shut up and let the noisy one speak, and the noisy ones don't seem to notice why the dynamic has changed.

sashh Mon 24-Sep-12 09:15:09

Lollipop sticks for questions.

Each student's name is on a lollipop sticj, they are pulled out at random to ask questions so theremis no bias.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 09:23:47

Oh, that's a good one!

I do hate the 'picking on' students thing ... but then it's nice to have a free pass to a question you really can't answer. Maybe a mixture of the two, so you each get a free pass once?

LaFataTurchina Mon 24-Sep-12 11:01:16

I think it depends what you teach. If you teach a social science/humanity I thing you can just come right out and say you want a feminist classroom.

I had 2 separate political theory lecturers who would just come out and say 'right. that's enough out of the boys let's let the girls speak' and then point out that men tend to dominate seminar discussions.

You might sound a bit weird if you're teaching something completely unrelated like Biology though.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 11:05:05

Yes, I was wondering about that.

And I was wondering as well how you do it when you are at school, or when your children are at school - how early on can they deal with this stuff?

I suspect a lot of it needs to be tacit, rather than explicitly stated as 'feminist'.

dreamingbohemian Mon 24-Sep-12 11:17:29

I couldn't speak for younger grades, but at uni level I think one of the best ways to encourage more female participation is to create an environment in which everyone feels free to speak and you don't have a couple people dominating the conversation.

Also, as you get to know the students, you find out what they are interested in and what they think about things, so you can try to draw comments out of them in class more directly.

I guess I favour an indirect approach, rather than directly saying 'let the girls speak', because I don't want to put people on the spot too much either. Some people are shy and I don't want to torture them by forcing them to talk if they don't want to.

I think the most important ingredient for a feminist classroom is a mindful lecturer, someone who notices for example if only men are participating, talking over others, etc.

slug Mon 24-Sep-12 11:26:20

First I think you should read up on some of the feminist research on gender in the classroom. Off the top of my head I would recommend Dale Spender's 'Man Made Language' and 'Invisible Women: The Schooling Scandal'. From memory the research shows that, despite the belief that modern schooling suits girls rather than boys, in fact the majority of interactions in a classroom are with boys. I would also have a look at your attitude to loud or dominant girls. Do you instinctively treat them differently from loud or dominant boys?

I saw this recently and thought it illustrated the problem rather well.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 11:49:35

Thank you, I am familiar with the Spender but not the other book, I will look it up.

I think you make a good point about the differences in treatment - that's what I was getting at, about people rewarding the same kind of speech differently depending on gender.

I suppose the difficulty is, do we teach girls to 'speak like men' (which seems patronizing), or do we teach boys to stop speaking over girls (if that's what they do). It is tricky because this is a practical problem, not just a theoretical one that can be solved by saying 'but there should be no gendered differences in how we speak and how we interpret other people's speech').

dreaming - agreed. 'Mindful' is a great term. But, practically, how?

I mean, tips and things for individual situations. I'm just trying to think it all through.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 11:50:58

Sorry, posted before I clicked ... off to watch the link now, thank you!

vesela Mon 24-Sep-12 12:05:07

The problem is with saying in the full flow of things "right, it's the girls' turn to speak now" is that it gives the impression that girls need to be let and allowed.

Maybe it's possible to have a session at the start talking about behaviour in the classroom, not interrupting or dominating etc., and as part of that ask them (all of them) whether they ever feel inhibited in contributing and why. If gender doesn't automatically come up in the resulting discussion, ask them straight out whether they think it plays a role.

(no idea whether that would actually work)

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 12:07:24

Yes, absolutely.

I also don't like 'the girls' turn' because it reinforces the idea that gender is the main dividing line. And usually you get a few quiet lads and a few confident and talkative girls, who then end up feeling either as if they're always told to be quiet, or as if they're not 'proper' boys/girls.

I do very much like the idea of asking at the start of a class whether they feel inhibited. I have previously emailed students and asked them to let me know if they have difficulties presenting or reading aloud, so next time I will incorporate that into it. Great idea.

I could imagine it working very well with an A level class too.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 12:19:14

I've now watched that video - thanks slug. I loved 'I'm louder than you, I have the mike'!

I think a problem I have, is that I am female and working in a discipline that attracts a lot of women (and this is true of teachers at school as well), and so it's that issue that she explains there ... people tend to assume there is no inequality, that women have the 'advantage'.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 24-Sep-12 13:05:42

LRD, how big is the teaching group, approx?

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 13:11:27

I'm thinking fairly generally at the moment, doctrine - if I get a teaching group next year, I would imagine it will be either classes of around ten, or very small groups of one or two. With two, obviously the dynamic will be different from with ten.

But to be honest, I was hoping we could also talk about school classes and feminism, because of course that is the context from which my students will have come. And I think probably more people on here will be interested in talking about schooling because of having children in school.

dreamingbohemian Mon 24-Sep-12 13:22:24

Is the feminist classroom just about speaking and participation? It's also about content, right?

For example, history classes may still prioritise political events and people -- largely male-driven -- and ignore other spheres where women were more prominent, had more agency.

It seems to me there are two levels to your question:

What are the systemic/structural impediments to a more feminist classroom? This can be content in the curriculum, or assessment methods that privilege one gender over another, or teacher training that doesn't emphasise techniques to enhance learning for women, etc.

What can individual teachers do to promote a feminist classroom? I guess this is more about teaching techniques. I don't know, I think if you are mindful enough to ask the question, you will handle yourself in a positive way. I'm not sure you need lots of specific tips and techniques. It sounds like you're already on track really.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 13:27:51

Yes, it's also about context.

And thank you, that makes sense, and I have been figuring this out in a very waffly way. Looking at it as a thing with two levels makes sense.

LaFataTurchina Mon 24-Sep-12 13:47:28

I'm glad you started this thread LRD, it's very interesting stuff.

Especially the bit about 'how young do we start?' - I work in Early Years and have just been thinking about ways to talk about human rights/equality type things to practitioners. I haven't got a clue yet

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 24-Sep-12 13:55:13

That sounds fascinating. I would really like to know more about how that works - because I guess you're really able to see a concept of gender developing, which is amazing.

LaFataTurchina Mon 24-Sep-12 19:35:42

I'm not sure yet, it's especially hard because in working to the EYFS guidance we are meant to follow the children's interests, so that means I do end up getting out traditionally girly resources for most of the girls and traditionally boyish resources for most of the boys.

So I think if I'm going to talk to practitioners it's going to have to be more about what they do as part of their wider roles (I'm thinking mainly partnership with parents type stuff) rather than directly in the activities they do with children.

YouMayLogOut Mon 24-Sep-12 19:38:51

Make sure the resources are gender-balanced, so books, posters and other materials contain suitable numbers of people in non-stereotypical roles. Ensure in any group activities that both girls and boys get the chance to be the leader of the group.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 24-Sep-12 19:54:50

Speaking for primary, I'd stop the competitions between "the boys" and "the girls".

I'd make sure that any history topic work had a fair mix of men and women's history, just taking a bit more time to research beyond what is seen as the traditional history of wars and weaponry.

I wouldn't refer to anything as "women's history" or "women's issues" though, just include it in the mainstream, as if that's the standard to be expected.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 24-Sep-12 19:56:57

" it's especially hard because in working to the EYFS guidance we are meant to follow the children's interests, so that means I do end up getting out traditionally girly resources for most of the girls and traditionally boyish resources for most of the boys."

LaFata I knew a EY teacher who, when choosing the toys for each child, would sometimes get them to pick the toy that they would be least likely to play with. It was surprising how well it worked.

kim147 Mon 24-Sep-12 20:17:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WofflingOn Mon 24-Sep-12 20:32:15

Writing sentences using connectives on the IWB today.

The mad scientist created a hideous monster, whilst her husband created a delicious chocolate cake.

The language, expectations and activities that you use on a daily basis, formal and informal.
Gentle surprise at the sexist expectations and attitudes they have already developed and encouraging them to question why. Discouraging girls from tidying up everyone's mess and instead getting them to identify the creator of said mess and getting them to tidy up.Allowing children to step out of gender roles without excessive comment, negative or positive.
There are a thousand ways to create and sustain a feminist classroom.

kim147 Mon 24-Sep-12 20:43:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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