Participation as Reflective Practice: Digital Composing and Feminist Pedagogy

Participation as Reflective Practice: Digital Composing and Feminist Pedagogy

Jason Palmeri and Abby Dubisar


Appendix A: Syllabus Language for Participation Journal Approach

The success of this class depends upon your active participation in class discussions of activities. That said, I recognize that participation can take many forms and we all learn (and thus participate) in unique ways. Talking in whole discussion is a valuable form of participation, but so is listening carefully and recording notes to share with the class. Helping ensure that every person in a small group has a chance to speak can be more valuable than taking the lead in accomplishing the group task yourself. Participation in dialogue means not just speaking up often but also listening to and talking directly with your peers (asking them questions, extending their ideas, reconsidering your own point of view in terms of what they say, helping create an environment where everyone feels empowered to learn from one another). In order to recognize the unique forms of participation that each of you bring to the table, your participation grade will based largely on a semi-regular participation journal that you will complete in the last five minutes of every class period. In this journal, you will always respond to the following two questions:

  • What was your most meaningful moment of classroom participation in class today? Why?
  • What questions of concerns do you have that you didn't get to share? (This is optional)

Another way you will document your participation in class is by completing in-class writing activities (both individual and collaborative). Failure to complete these activities can lower your participation grade. Participation will be evaluated holistically at the end of class based on your participation journal and in-class writing activities.

Appendix B: Discussing Chilly Climates and Gendered Participation

Beyond positioning lack of participation as a negative outcome for women students learning in such chilly classroom climates, the 1982 report also connects participation to ways a chilly climate can interfere with the educational process. It indicates that “a learning climate that subtly or overtly communicates different expectations for women than for men can interfere with the educational process itself. If.…it is taken for granted that women are less apt than men to participate in class discussion and their input is either not sought, or overtly or subtly discouraged, the contribution of half the class may be lost” (3). Abby has assigned this reading in her gender and communication class with successful results, as students are initially surprised to know such research on gender and participation is happening and then begin to relate the findings to their own educational experiences.

Because the report was initially published in 1982 (before most of our students were even born), students often comment that it is out of date and progress has been made since publication, thus giving instructors an opportunity to ask students to update the research questions being asked for the twenty-first century, as Abby has done, or, for a more ambitious project, to have students recreate the studies of classroom participation included and become primary researchers themselves.

In response to the “chilly climate” report, one student highlighted its discussion of how women are not as verbally assertive in classroom settings as well as habits exhibited by men faculty members that decreased women’s participation. These practices include calling on men students by name more often than using women students’ names, using generic language by referring to mixed-gender student groups as “guys,” and more (Hall 8-9). The student thus expressed concern that these practices continue thirty years after the publication of the report and further communicated distress that many women students have valuable contributions to make to class but ultimately hold back. This pattern of gender bias in the classroom resonated with Abby’s student’s own experience as a woman student, but she had not connected gender to verbal contributions in class before.

Another student responded to the article by noting that the classroom gender inequities covered in the article could be illustrated by the management course she was currently enrolled in. Based on her observation, eight to ten men students did all the talking in this course populated by forty people. Interestingly, Abby’s student observed that many of the women students brought laptops to class and directed their gaze at the screen to isolate themselves from discussion, identifying one of the very anxieties instructors face about incorporating technology into the classroom. The student went on to note that the instructor attempted to bring women into the discussion even when their hands were not raised, but such prodding seemed to her to further highlight the gender imbalance in the class's vocal participants since prodded students get flustered and speak unconfidently when they are forced to do so. Once Abby’s students have read each other's reactions to the article, they have a conversation about the trends they noticed in each other’s observations and how faculty members could learn from this research, which a few of Abby’s students have promised to deliver anonymously to professors across campus.

Beyond using the “chilly climate” report as a tool to facilitate students’ own observations about gendered participation in their classes, other sections of the report provide illuminating material for instructors who hope to improve their classroom concepts of participation. Appendix A in the report, for example, the “Student-Faculty Communication Checklist,” could be utilized dynamically by any instructor and even adapted by instructors and students to fit a digital classroom. The checklist encourages instructors to tape record their classes in order to more fully understand interactions and reflect on them. It encourages instructors to consider these (and other) questions: “What is the number of men versus women called on to answer questions?” “Is your verbal response to students positive? Aversive? Encouraging? Is it the same for all students? If not, what is the reason?” (Hall 21).

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