How to make teaching engaging?
June 14, 2011 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me be an adjunct women's professor! Teaching a class for the first time and looking for teaching tips and reading/book suggestions!

I'm teaching my first women's studies course for undergraduates and I am very excited! The course will focus on gender - what it means, what factors define it (external, internal). I am trying to figure out how to make the course engaging for students and also informative. My personal politics are connected to queer theory, but I think it would be interesting, important, to use authors/writers that I personally disagree with (radical feminism, for example), so that students can challenge themselves after reading contradictory/opposing/different perspectives.

Any suggestions on readings you truly loved regarding gender/the body when you were a student? Are there teaching styles/types of activities that you loved as a student or that you think works, as a professor? Video clips on youtube you think are good conversation starters?

Thanks so much!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do a unit on ancient sexuality and gender! The Greeks and the Romans had a fascinating (and culturally significant) set of views about masculinity, femininity, the purpose of sex, etc, etc. Everything was heavily interrelated, so even though your course is on gender, the concepts defined in ancient times regarding sexuality will still be relevant. You could even have your students discuss the ways in which ancient sexuality and gender influenced the art created in ancient Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc and how gendered gaze still manifests today when we consider works of art and literature, especially when viewing advertisements (an important mainstream source of socially constructed gender roles and regulations). My professor even had a segment on Ancient Pornography and how it reflected classical views on gender and equality. Totally hilarious reactions whenever I got to tell people I was watching porn for class.

These books were the texts used in the course I took:

Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World
Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings: Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity
Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Document
posted by patronuscharms at 10:56 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the course? What sort of undergraduates--lower division, upper division? Is this a majors course that serves as a prereq, an elective, or a general ed survey? How big is the class? What kinds of technology will be present in the classroom (a smart cart, a TV...)? And what type of college is this--a community college, a regional comprehensive, SLAC...? All of these things will affect what you assign, when you assign it, and what you do with it.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cannot speak to the Women's Studies angle (my field is research methods), but I can tell you a few things about teaching undergraduates:

1) First, will these be Freshmen? Seniors? A mix? There is a fair amount of difference between grade levels, and different techniques work better with different groups. In general, if it's mostly Freshmen, assume you will cover less ground than you think you will -- things that seem basic and obvious to you will be foreign to them, and the new students will take extra time to process.

2) I try not to lecture for more than 15 minutes without giving them a break. That could be an active learning exercise, small group discussion with reporting back to the class, a whole-class discussion, etc.

3) Managing the flow of discussion is really important -- you need to figure out how to get quiet students to talk and more vocal students to not monopolize all of the talking time. Given the potentially charged nature of the topic, having the students propose and vote on ground rules for class discussions may make them more invested in the process (I have some colleagues who have used this for their group projects, but not specifically for discussion).

4) I am rather fond of problem-based learning -- have the students interact with (imaginary) real-world situations that illustrate some of your concepts. For example, instead of just being lectured on homelessness, students can figure out how a student who has had all her tuition, fees, and books paid for but is homeless can manage to attend classes and deal with everything else that students have to deal with -- it much more effective, because it makes them view their own problems in a new light. It's a good way to let students "roleplay" privilege and oppression more or less on their own terms.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:08 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
Sorry for the lack of detail! The course is about gendered bodies - first year undergraduates may be in the class, but it is highly likely that it will be 2-4th year students. This is a women's studies elective and I have been told that students generally are a mix of women's studies majors and activist kids from different majors. I am in a not so great room (adjunct, remember!) with limited technology but I should be able to screen youtube videos and DVDs. The class is capped at 25, I believe, and this university is a predominantly wealthy-white-student kind of place, private and entitled.

Thank you so very much! I can (with the help of the mods) answer more specifics that you would like.
posted by mathowie at 11:11 AM on June 14, 2011

OK, one additional quick note before I take off for the afternoon -- even with older students, it's a good idea to plan on covering less material than you think likely for the first class you teach -- it is way easier to add exercises, topics, or let discussions run longer than to crush more stuff in. On the other hand, it's also a good idea to know what you institution expects out of a credit hour. My students are always rather amazed to discover that the manual tells than to expect 2 hours of work/week outside of class for every hour/week in. In general, I find it way easier to add some material toward the end of the semester than to try and rush through stuff.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:19 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the most important book ever published about the sexuality of the ancients is The reign of the phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens by Eva C. Keuls:

At once daring and authoritative, this book offers a profusely illustrated history of sexual politics in ancient Athens.
The phallus was pictured everywhere in ancient Athens: painted on vases, sculpted in marble, held aloft in gigantic form in public processions, and shown in stage comedies. This obsession with the phallus dominated almost every aspect of public life, influencing law, myth, and customs, affecting family life, the status of women, even foreign policy.
This is the first book to draw together all the elements that made up the "reign of the phallus"--men's blatant claim to general dominance, the myths of rape and conquest of women, and the reduction of sex to a game of dominance and submission, both of women by men and of men by men.

I guarantee your students will have little difficulty completing assigned reading of this book, though their view of "the Greek miracle" will never be the same.

Astonishingly, it's very well illustrated with vase paintings, though I wonder if most of those vases have seen any public exhibition whatsoever.
posted by jamjam at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've taught Intro to Women's Studies a few times, and GenjiandProust is right on the money--every time I taught it, I put less stuff on the course schedule. I just found the students got overwhelmed easily, especially the ones who were being introduced to the topics for the first time.

Some relevant topics I covered:
  • images of women in advertising and the media (I highly recommend Jean Kilbourne's Killing Us Softly 4 she has a very good (free) downloadable study guide with plenty of teaching ideas; Sarah Haskins' Target Women series from Current TV's Infomania is also engaging and educational, and available online
  • medical treatment of women (e.g. you can look at how societal and medical views of pregnancy and childbirth have changed; you could get a midwife as a guest speaker); I also used to show a documentary called The Pill, which examines the development of the birth control pill and the risks its developers took with women's lives
  • transgender issues--you could take an international focus and look at the hijras in India--there is a doc (which I haven't seen, but has a good rep) called The Third Gender
Also, I always did an intro to feminist theory. I wouldn't start with it--I usually did it about halfway through the course--but it does provide context and framework for your topics. The chapter "Liberal, Socialist, and Radical Feminism: An Introduction to Three Theories About Women’s Oppression and Social Change" by Shana L. Calixte, Jennifer L. Johnson, and J. Maki Motapanyane, from the reader Feminist Issues: Race, Class, and Sexuality provides a clear, accessible overview of three major theories. You could choose to focus on what those theories have to say about gendered bodies.

I also found the WMST-L file collection (hasn't been updated that recently, unfortunately) to be a very good resource--lots of ideas and inspiration in there. There is a section on Biology/Health that covers topics you might find particularly useful.

Anyway I'll stop there. But I am a big believer in sharing teaching ideas and materials, so if you would like more resources or suggestions, feel free to MeMail me and I'll happily send you bibliographies, sample syllabi, assignment ideas, etc.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

different from hurdy gurdy girl, I usually lead out with my theories, but I agree that the Calixte et al. is a good basic one. I present theories as systems of ideas that frame the engagement of issues. From this perspective using the theories to spotlight different aspects of a single issue is how the course proceeds. You're doing a gendered bodies course but you don't really agree with radical feminism? Framing radical feminism as "roots" (radical) feminism which understands the root source of patriarchy as controlling bodies might help.

Essentialist vs Constructionist (understood as a continuum) approaches to the body is one angle, and if it's an upper level course then challenge this again in terms of poststructuralist feminist approaches.

Units I've done around bodies:
women in sport
beauty, fashion and impact on bodies
birth, birth politics, midwifery
cyborg feminism, computer, technological, online liberation from the body
health and the medicalization of the body and bodily processes
posted by kch at 1:22 PM on June 14, 2011

At least in my field, it is not unusual to collect syllabi from your grad school's faculty/listservs/the internet and craft from that.

I've also found that picking a textbook if at all possible is easier than picking the right readings, even if it isn't perfect. It adds structure, especially the first time around.

Moreover, your an adjunct, so it is possible that you're not being paid poorly. Keep that in mind as you prep, especially if this is the only time you're teaching this class.

I am coming from an R1 perspective.
posted by k8t at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2011

Just remembered an article I used in a Women and Society sociology course, but would be appropriate for your course too: What it Means to be Gendered Me by Betsy Lucal. It's included in The Kaleidoscope of Gender, which I used as an assigned text for that soc course. There's a lot of GREAT stuff in there--check the table of contents for ideas. I liked that the selections included discussions of the intersections of gender, race, and class. Good stuff.

Also: Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism who debunks lots of the essentialist stuff the media likes to put out there, e.g. that boys' brains are better suited to math, that women are born to be nurturing, etc. I heard her speak at a conference in Boston and it was very invigorating. She's engaging and accessible, and could be a good intro for your students to discuss the ways the media shapes our ideas about gender.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:24 PM on June 14, 2011

I teach an undergrad course in women's history, and for what it's worth, I find it really helpful to devote a class or two to "men's history" or the history of masculinity in the period being studied. I often have mostly (or even all) female students in the course, and I think having them consider men and masculinity separately for a bit helps them approach women's history more carefully and critically. YMMV.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:22 PM on June 14, 2011

OK, I promise I'll stop after this. (Can you tell I miss teaching women's studies?) But following on amy lecteur's good point about addressing masculinity, I'll also suggest the slightly dated but still worthwhile documentaries Tough Guise and Wrestling With Masculinity. Both films discuss the expectations put on men to be what society defines as "masculine" and also examines the particular pressures put on men of colour. After all, gender studies applies to men too, and it is often quite eye-opening for students to realize that gender expectations are placed on men and women and affect everyone in powerful ways.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:43 PM on June 14, 2011

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