*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Honorable Mention, 2018 *~*
I am committed to teaching students how to translate and disseminate sociological knowledge beyond the classroom. This semester, I taught a new course titled “Femininities and Masculinities.” At Skidmore College, this is a gateway course to the major. One of the challenges of teaching this course is getting students to understand complex theories about gender and sex at an introductory level. Most of my students have not taken a sociology course, or are concurrently taking Introduction to Sociology. On top of that, the course is designated writing intensive, so I face the daunting task of teaching students how to become better writers.
To tackle these intersecting issues, I assign The Society Pages’ book, Assigned: Life With Gender, and require students to write a blog post about a topic of their choice. The text serves as a benchmark for sociological blogging and helps students digest complex sociological theories about gender and sex through accessible prose. The three objectives of this assignment are to illustrate comprehension of theories and concepts through application, advance analytical writing using sociological prose, and to use an accessible platform (blogging) to enrich their college writing experience.
In this class, we read classic texts such as West and Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender,” and Judith Lorber’s “Seeing is Believing.” To unpack these works, I concurrently assign articles from Assigned: Life with Gender. For example, Tristen Bridges’, “Doing Gender with Wallets and Purses,” complemented West and Zimmerman’s classic text, while Markus Gerke’s piece on gay male athletes helped students grasp Connell’s complex typology of masculinities.
Teaching students how to write well is challenging, and many obstacles stand in the way. Procrastination, confusion or partial understanding of fundamental theories and concepts, and lack of practice writing sociologically are a few among many. Over the years, I have noted that one of the biggest challenges students face in sociology writing courses is interpreting and analyzing theories and translating this knowledge into accessible prose. A short blog post allows students to focus on understanding a concept or theory well while improving their writing.
Over the years I have learned to incorporate a scaffolding approach in assignments. Students focus on one assignment — in this case, the blog post — and submit tasks throughout the semester (see assignment guide below). The benefits of this are numerous, and teach students essential skills such as time management. For writing assignments, a scaffolding approach teaches students that starting early and re-writing are essential skills for solid academic writing.
Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. During a recent meeting with a student who is writing a blog post on transgender men’s experiences of ballet dancing he told me, “I appreciate this assignment because we can work on something that we are passionate about.” His blog post, which is inspired by his observations (he is a ballet dancer), reveals how transgender men are ostracized when they challenge classical ballet dress code. Other topics include; the gendering of beer pong, sexual racism perpetuated in gay dating apps such as Grindr, expressions of masculinity and femininity among female aircraft pilots, how haircare regiments among African American women reinforce emphasized femininity, and how the DSM-5’s lack of criteria for diagnosing EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) reinforces dangerous body image ideals.
Ruth M. Hernández is a sociologist whose research and teaching interests lie in the intersection of gender, international migration, and Latinx communities. Currently, she is a Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Skidmore College where she teaches courses on gender and Latinx communities. In addition to her scholarship, Ruth is an activist involved in various community projects that address issues affecting temporary and permanent Latinx migrants in the Northeast. You can reach Ruth by email at email@example.com