This forum piece provides an overview of feminist teaching practices in English classrooms int the US, Canada and Japan. Norton and Pavlenko see gender as socially constructed and contextually situated, and therefore an ideal topic for exploration in the intercultural environment of an English class. First, they explore curricular innovations that make English classes more accessible for female students, looking at two programs in the US that incorporate student needs in terms of scheduling, transportation and relevance to their cultures and concerns, as well as two courses for college students and adults in Japan that integrate feminist ideas into linguistic analyses. They also mention two programs that examine male students’ needs, a module for both male and female students to explore gender issues at a university in Japan and the adoption of an English for Occupational Purposes class designed to meet the needs of male Malaysian university students who were disengaged from traditional language classes because they didn’t focus enough on business. These course all reorganized curricula to incorporate the students’ experiences. Feminist classroom practices also involve the choice of materials and topics. Examples include a writing class centered around soap operas in Canada, and two classes in Japan, one designed to create dialogues around feminist textbooks and one that used life writing to get students to explore their own experiences. The third approach they consider is the incorporation of difficult topics into language classes, as a way to explore the societal and cultural construction of gender. They mention a class that used a picture of two lesbian women holding hands to teach modal auxiliaries and a class that explored Chinese family dynamics as an entry point to practicing intonation. They also describe a case study that examined the ways international teaching assistants perceived sexual harassment scenarios, which varied across both gender and culture. The final area that Pavlenko and Norton address is classroom power dynamics. The mention a study that researched how unequal power relations led Japanese girls to be silent in class and an examination of the ways that college writing centers can be sites for feminist composition pedagogy.
Collectively, these examples, while only mentioned briefly, provide an overview of the variety of ways gender and feminist issues can be incorporated into ESL and EFL classes and programs. One thing I was struck by was the fact that virtually all of the examples focused on adults, either in adult education programs or university settings. I think that, as a teacher of children and teenagers, usually in public school settings, it can seem like there are more barriers to incorporating social issues into the classroom, but that its incredibly powerful when these ideas are normalized at a young age. Feminist approaches, such as power sharing and examining texts with feminist themes, can be implemented even with young students, although in these contexts they are more likely to be integrated into preexisting courses (like the modal and intonation examples), rather than serving as the basis for an entire course. While my education was entirely in English, rather than a second language, I remember the ways my elementary school teachers encouraged us to reconsider what we thought of as just and fair and taken for granted, and having that as part of my childhood education was really important. I want to make sure my students get similar exposure to social issues in my classes. I’m also curious what has changed in the years since Norton and Pavlenko wrote this, especially in terms of the way teachers in developing countries are engaging with gender issues, since “gender balance” was such a buzzword when I was in Tanzania.
Norton, B. & Pavlenko, A. (2004). Addressing gender in the ESL/EFL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 38(3), 504-513.