“Feminist Listening: Pedagogy and Practice”

 

My emphasis on listening stems from my research, which explains that listening can exhibit feminist principles of egalitarianism, parity, and equality throughout the conversation rather than creating a hierarchy of power between speaker and listener in which the speaker retains the authority. Feminist listening grants equal power to the listener and has the added result of empowering the person who is being listened to. As a teacher of literature, writing, and women and gender studies, the content of my classes is ever changing; however, I find that no matter what I am teaching, my philosophy of teaching hinges on these facets of listening. 

 

Structuring and Facilitating Listening Situations

 

I train my students to be active participants in the classroom, to listen with intent, and to attempt to understand rather than to refute differing viewpoints. In my classes students read and watch material that often challenges their preconceived ideas about gender, race, class, and disability, such as Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack,” Dorothy Alison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, or This Film is not yet Rated. I structure my classes to create listening situations, often minimizing my lectures to leave room for discussion, placing students in groups or reading circles that utilize strategies like the pinwheel method, gallery walk, or Socratic method designed to teach students listen to each other. I craft discussion questions meant to synthesize the ideas contributed to the ongoing class discussion and offer individualized hands on support to help students where they are in the moment. For example, when Susan says, “I don’t understand why we need to read this novel with attention to race,” instead of shutting her down, I first ask her to elaborate on her point, and then open up the discussion to the class as a whole, challenging them to discover places in the text where race appears to be a prominent issue. Asking students to grapple with Susan’s opinion helps build critical thinking skills and also incites an understanding of textual evidence and close reading analysis. At the end of the semester, Susan shared, “Learning from my classmates was a big part of this course because everyone comes from different backgrounds and has different opinions and ideas.” While I cannot change Susan’s opinion overnight, my goal is to plant the seeds of inquiry that allow those like her to leave class more open-minded than when they first entered.

 

Listening Across Contexts: traditional, digital, and creative

 

Whether answering an essay question on an exam, journaling, writing an article summary or a research paper, students are expected to synthesize their ideas by writing critically over the subject. My experiences teaching basic writing, first-year and sophomore composition, and directing a writing center have all shaped the way I teach writing assignments. I foster writing communities through workshops, class blog sites, and collaborative new media projects designed to facilitate listening between students. Some students prefer expressing themselves through images, others through speech, and still others through movement, which is why I provide a range of assignments that encourage forms of expression outside of the simple text on paper, such as inventing superheroes to teach the power of ethos, re-cutting movie trailers to understand genre shifts, creating memes to recognize motifs, or participating in service learning projects to understand how concepts in the classroom translate to real world settings. I want to provide multiple opportunities for students to show me what they have learned.

 

Listening as a Heuristic for Lifelong Learning

 

I am committed to the belief that a classroom environment in which everyone—including me—is an active learner and listener is the best place for students not just to acquire facts or pieces of knowledge but the processes and skills that will foster lifelong learning. I was pleased to hear Kolby’s validation: “The classroom discussions enabled me to better understand the literature and appreciate the novels in a new way. I was not a really strong reader before and I think now I will pick up a book or two and just read for pleasure.” I ultimately strive to equip students for success in and outside the classroom by providing them the tools they need to learn independently.