Intro to Women's Writing
I taught Introduction to Women's Writing in the Spring of 2014 at TCU. The class was cross listed as both English and Women and Gender Studies. Teaching a Women and Gender Studies course as a graduate student at TCU requires special permission from the Director of Composition and the Director of Women and Gender Studies as well as completion of the Women and Gender Studies Certification and the literature pedagogy course. Below you will find my assessment of the course as well as the syllabi, an example assignment sheet, and links to the course blog and student work.
What worked well?
Several things went well over the course of the semester, including scheduling, class participation, and the making of the wise woman videos. I was able to coordinate and scaffold my assignments to align with WGST programming, which was beneficial to our class discussions and in some ways enhanced the readings. For example, we read Bastard Out of Carolina, which features both physical and emotional abuse, during violence against women awareness week. We also read The Short History of Women, which discusses women’s roles in politics during the week Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price, came to campus. I facilitated and managed class time and discussion well even with the larger reading load. I adjusted when needed to fit in the extra texts, and as mentioned earlier broke into small reading groups when needed. The incorporation of the wise woman video assignment turned out better than expected. Students created their own definitions for wise women and provided video footage of their ideal woman after reading Jane Addam’s “Cassandra” speech. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of women the students profiled and definitions they created. Some focused on celebrities like Beyonce or Mylie Cyrus. Others interviewed their mothers or friends. After watching the videos in class, we were able to have an insightful discussion about how these videos represent an assortment of feminists, demonstrating that there is no cookie-cutter image of what a feminist should look or sound like. This was a break through moment for some of my students who previously believed you had to do something radical to earn the title or that a stay at home mom could not be considered feminist. To view examples of the student-made Wise Woman Video, please see the Student New Media Gallery page.
What would I change or improve?
I wanted to provide a variety of course readings because I knew that some of the women enrolled in the class might not get to take another course on the subject. I taught 5 novels and several short stories and essays. I was excited to teach this class, and I wanted to include a wide range of female authors from different backgrounds, races, socioeconomic levels, sexualities, and religions. In my quest to bring diversity to the reading list, I may have assigned too much. For example, some days I assigned two short stories for one class period. After realizing that we could talk about one of those for the whole period and possibly go more in depth into the material, I decided to proceed by letting the students break into reading groups, each reading a different assigned text. This way we still covered the material in class together, and the students had extra leadership opportunities when they reported their findings to their peers.
In hindsight, I wish I had picked more of a narrow focus for the course that would have provided more depth instead of a wide breadth of material. If I could teach it again, I would stick with Southern female writers, which is my area of interest and specialty. I believe my expertise in this area would have benefitted both my students and me. Doing so would have allowed me to keep texts like “Good Country People,” "Sucker,"The Awakening, and Bastard Out of Carolina. I would add in short stories from the Southern female writer’s anthology Downhome as well as Member of the Wedding, and Strange Fruit.
Sample Assignment Sheet: Creating Your Own Book Club
The Book Club Assignment was the final project in my women’s writer’s course. Throughout the semester, I challenged students to think about how to define women’s writing and authorship. We looked at a variety of writing such as poetry, fiction, drama, screenplays, letters, etc. Some of the texts we read in class were from Oprah’s book club 2.0, which she has described as an extension of herself. Thus, though these texts are all individually authored, Oprah has added a new layer of authorship to the texts by grouping them together.
The assignment allows the students to be authors in the same way that Oprah is an author or even as a teacher may be considered an author. In other words, it complicates the idea of authorship. Leading up to the project, students watched clips from an episode of Oprah discussing the significance of her club and read passages from Rooney’s Reading With Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America.
One of my goals was to get students interested in future reading and to seek out more women writers that we did not get a chance to cover in class. So, asking the students to make critical decisions by creating their own book club seemed like both a logical and interesting way to end the semester. I had students turn in their book clubs a few days before the final so I could have them bound and pass them out to the students to take with them over the summer. I also volunteered to organize them into reading groups or lead a reading group over the summer for anyone interested. (I had a few takers!)
I asked them to come up with a theme for their club or a common subject that unites or groups the books together. They wrote a brief abstract to me about why and how they made their selections. After that, they chose 5 books to be a part of their club readings. They wrote a paragraph for each entry explaining why this book was important for their club members to read, how it fit into the theme of the club, and a short summary of the work. In addition, they were asked come up with discussion questions for club members regarding the works on their lists. Lastly, they were required to come up with their own logo or “stamp” of approval similar to Oprah’s book club sticker. We will discuss the ethos of a society/ club and I believe asking them to come up with their own logo will allow them to think about how they want their ethos to be represented.
I have chosen to include this project because I feel it best represents my vision for any class, which is a balance between literature and rhetoric. Since I am pursuing the hybrid degree, I want to demonstrate how I will translate my studies into teaching. I think creating a book club designed to meet a theme allows students to pull in knowledge of literary criticism, but asks
them to think critically about their own authorship/ ethos in the process bringing rhetorical practices to the forefront. I have included the assignment sheet and a student example in this section, so you can see how the students approached the assignment.
Goals and Outcomes Met:
Students will demonstrate an understanding of literature as it impacts and/or reflects society and the individual.
The project was designed to be an extension of the student’s self in that the type of literature or writing they included in their club demonstrated their preferences as a reader/leader of their hypothetical organization. The logo they created also served as a demonstration of personal ethos and an awareness of the target audience for the club. In the example I provide, club members have a shared interest in YA supernatural fiction and the logo reflects this concept by its use of vampire imagery.
Students will demonstrate an understanding of how literature also constructs human cultures.Making the club is in many ways creating a culture of readers with a shared interest. Students were encouraged to think about the type of book culture they wanted to facilitate and the ways they could bring like minds together in the pursuit of reading.
This was a fun way to get students to find additional women writers we were unable to cover on the syllabus. In many cases, it inspired students to seek out women writers in categories where they are still the minority, such as science fiction. Students engaged with these texts critically, coming up with potential discussion questions for their clubs should they enact them over the summer. It served as an extension of their knowledge of the course and hopefully inspired further reading. It was rewarding for me as well because I was able to see the varied interests of students, and I left class with 33 book lists containing material that students would like to study, which has given me much to think about if I ever get to teach this course again.
If I assign this again, I think I will devote more class time to discussing Oprah as an author. We used one class period to talk about it coupled with a few readings. This class was very engaged with the topic, and I think one more day would have allowed us to delve a little deeper into the passages from Rooney’s work and the implications of selecting “high-brow” vs. “low-brow” lit.
Click on the images below for more information about the syllabus, class blog, and student projects.