Supporting Transgender Students in the Writing Classroom: Part II

In the last post, I shared some resources and articles on supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students in the classroom. With this post, I wanted to share the ways I adapted 2 of the strategies from Sherry Zane’s article “Supporting Transgender Students in the Classroom” for the first week of the semester.

Model pronoun etiquette for students

On the first day of class, when I introduced myself, I told students I go by she/her. I also wrote my pronoun preference on my syllabus.

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By modeling these preferences myself, I hope to set the tone for how pronouns will be handled in the classroom during discussion. And since I work with students mostly in first-year writing classrooms, for many this is one of the first times they have encountered pronoun naming. Modeling this behavior may be the first step in developing further awareness about pronoun preferences.

Take a written course poll on the first day instead of taking attendance out loud

By taking a written poll, I was able to take attendance while also allowing space for students to let me know their preferred name. On our first day I asked students to write out answers to the following questions and hand them into me:

  1. Name on the roster:
  2. Name you use:
  3. Pronouns you use:
  4. Major/minor:
  5. What social media do you use and/or are familiar with? (Instagram, Snapchat, Pokémon Go, Youtube, Myfitness Pal, Twitter, etc.)
  6. Please describe your access to technology (Smartphone? Laptop? Home computer? IPad? Access to Internet at home? Etc.)
  7. What are some of your favorite activities (in and out of school)?
  8. Anything else you would like your instructor to know about you at the start of class?

After the poll, students were asked to take turns sharing their preferred name, major, and something they are excited about this semester.

*I included some questions about social media and technology because the theme of the course is research in social media culture, so we would be reliant on using different digital tools to write with and analyze.

**I suggest modeling the pronoun etiquette before taking the poll, because some students may have forgotten what a pronoun is or not realize what you are asking.

***I did not ask students to share their preferred pronoun out loud–just their preferred name. This article goes into more details about why I made this decision.

As I was reading my students’ responses, it became clear that the poll not only helped the gender non-conforming students (and yes, it appears to be helpful for them), but also the class as a whole.

With the technology questions, I learned about insecurities with technology (EX: using Microsoft Word or navigating D2L), and I also learned who may struggle to access readings or materials I share through our course management system.

The final question gave students a space to share other information that may affect their work or the classroom environment: I learned who was working full-time jobs, who commutes from out of town, who had children they had to drop off at daycare in the morning, etc. Having an awareness of the potential obstacles individual students have positioned me to be better prepared to build flexibility into our course plans.

The final question also helped prepare me to understand certain in-class behaviors: one student, for example, stated that during discussion he always looks down at his desk.This position didn’t mean that he was not listening, but instead was a way to help him focus.

That’s it for now: just two simple things to do on day 1 of a writing course.

More later!

-KR

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