For Adult and Continuing Educators
Tips on Teaching Women
Sarah Jane Fishback
Department of Foundations and Adult Education
Kansas State University
[These tips are adapted from Online, The Newsletter of the American
Association for Adult and Continuing Education, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1999. Trainers
and teachers of adults can use such useful information to improve their efforts.]
Examine curriculum materials carefully to ensure women are represented
equitably and fairly. Questions to ask in this examination might include:
Are women and their issues included throughout the text? Is their inclusion
stereotypical? Are there examples of biased or sexist language? Make sure
curriculum materials contain a balanced representation of womens issues,
contributions and achievements, and if standard texts are inadequate, supplement
them with materials that do include women and their concerns. The question
"what was left out" can generate debate about whether or not womens
accomplishments are marginalized.
Design critical thinking exercises that assist learners to become aware
of their unconscious assumptions about gender and the unintended effects
of these assumptions. Our beliefs about gender are one of the first concepts
we develop; as early as age two, unreflectively, we pick up signals from
our environment about what is appropriate gender behavior and attempt to
emulate this behavior. Often, we reach adulthood before we begin to questions
whether these gender "rules" are really appropriate. Even after we have become
more reflective, we are still unconsciously influenced by and act on our
Examine your own beliefs about gender and gender appropriate behavior.
Even the best-intentioned educator carries the same cultural baggage as the
learner. While self-examination cant totally eliminate our biases,
it can make us more aware of our behavior. This can be accomplished in a
variety of ways to include journaling, critical incidents, and outside
observation. Simply stated, keeping a personal journal for a semester that
focuses on your reaction to and awareness of gender issues can provide insight.
If you use critical incident feedback from your learners, look for patterns
that might reveal bias or a lack of awareness on your part. Unconscious bias
reveals itself in our behavior behavior we dont see- but an
outside observer may. Having a colleague observe your classroom behavior
could provide a helpful mirror to reflect your practice.
Monitor classroom interactions for patterns of gender bias. Silence
in the classroom is a phenomena that occurs because some women feel too
threatened to speak, and because some women feel alienated in the classroom
and choose not to speak. Interaction patterns may reveal that men speak more
often, interrupt more frequently, or ignore women's contributions. If women
aren't participating, an examination as to why through critical incidents
or one-on-one conversations with the involved women may be useful.
Use the personal experience of women and tie that experience to classroom
learning. One of the points of agreement among those who study women
learners is that a woman's personal experience should be used in her learning.
Often women discount their personal experience and fail to see themselves
as knowers capable of making meaning. If a woman feels alienated and unvalued
in the classroom, valuing her personal knowledge is one step in overcoming
this barrier. Examining how her perspective agrees and disagrees with classroom
knowledge can be a powerful exercise in critical thinking.
Provide opportunities for collaborative learning. Culturally, conflict
is a concept that may be uncomfortable for many women. Women may be likely
to be concerned with maintaining group and personal relationships, and therefore
make an attempt to see or understand another's perspective, rather than to
immediately argue or disagree. Collaborative efforts are especially valued
by women, according to theorists. Small group work, case studies, or sharing
personal stories are all ways in which collaborative learning can be implemented.
Provide opportunities for women to explore their identities and create
a voice. For many women, identity is tied into relationship, i.e. "I
am a mother, wife, daughter:" Education can create a powerful vehicle for
growth if the learner is encouraged to self-reflect. Journals provide an
ideal method for allowing a learner to examine herself and her learning.
Providing a safe atmosphere for self-disclosure can also assist learners
in the self-discovery process.
Include affective experiences as part of the learning process. Numerous
researchers are exploring the connection between emotion, the brain, and
learning. Their belief is that emotion and learning are intertwined and can
powerfully affect the learning process. Some claim acknowledging feelings
in the classroom through self-disclosure, storytelling, role playing, and
literature is beneficial.
Be aware of how race, class, and ethnicity affects women in the
classroom. Cultural expectations of women vary dramatically by race,
class, and ethnicity, so it is impossible to make generalizations about women
based solely on gender. Black women, for example, may use silence in the
classroom as a survival tactic as it seems the safest course of action. Black
women also describe negotiating and trying to find a middle ground in their
interactions with fellow students and professors. These women describe looking
for clues as to who was receptive to interaction. Reaching out to all students
and attempting to bring them into the circle should be the responsibility
of all adult educators. When these women resist and do speak out in the
classroom, it may be after much thought and anguish. Valuing their perspective
and encouraging this resistance can assist these women in developing and
valuing their voice. Methods should be developed that allow the educator
to better understand and serve those learners who are culturally different
from the educator.
Provide female success models. Some note that in terms of
"self-fulfilling" prophecies, to convince women who firmly believe that someone
like "them" can't learn, it is valuable to provide concrete role models like
"them" who have succeeded. If possible, provide a panel of women who have
"made it" with backgrounds and aspirations similar to your learners. Find
successful women who are willing to serve as mentors to learners. Provide
success stories so that learners can begin to believe that they can suceed.
Serve as a mentor. A mentor is someone who can provide a map of
possibilities for the learner. Because many women learners are challenging
long-held beliefs about what it means to be a woman, and of who she is as
a woman, emotional support is key and essential. This support may not come
from her environment. The adult educator may be the only one willing to start
where the woman is and stand beside her until she is ready to move ahead.
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