Feminist Pedagogy: Implications for UDL

“[F]eminist theory is still resisted for exactly the same reasons that scholars might resist disability studies: the assumption that it is narrow, particular, and has little to do with the mainstream of academic practice and knowledge (or with themselves).”

“Most fundamentally, though, the goal of feminist disability studies, as I lay it out in this essay, is to augment the terms and confront the limits of the ways we understand human diversity, the materiality of the body, multiculturalism, and the social formations that interpret bodily differences.” — Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, 2002, 3

As evidenced by recent collaborations between women’s (gender) studies and disability studies, feminist pedagogy has a lot to offer the way we think about crafting universally designed pedagogies.

Susan Jarratt, a well-known feminist pedagogue in my field, identifies the basic practices of feminist pedagogy as decentering authority, recognizing students as sources of knowledge, and focusing on processes over products (115). What makes feminist pedagogy distinctive, though, is “its investment in a view of contemporary society as sexist and patriarchal, and of the complicity of reading, writing, and teaching in those conditions” (115). Julie Jung identifies similar qualities of feminist pedagogy, set in opposition to qualities of a patriarchal society, which I have included in the following table for a quick compare/contrast:

Table comparing patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy as defined by Julie Jung

The Qualities of Patriarchal Pedagogy vs. Feminist Pedagogy

The similarities between patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy to normalized/standardized and universally designed pedagogy are readily apparent, at least in the way that we have discussed them this semester. A patriarchal pedagogy is the historically “normed” pedagogy, and, in many ways, is inaccessible to students: it is teacher-student, doesn’t foster a safe or collaborative environment, and devalues students’ differences. A universally designed pedagogy, as we have discussed, moves away from these inaccessible practices to make the classroom a safe space where everyone’s experiences and knowledges are respected and valued.

The connections in practice are not the only value of considering feminist pedagogy, though. Jarratt writes, “Feminist pedagogy needs both to talk about women as a group—women teachers, women students—but also notice differences within gendered categories, especially when it comes to student writing and reading practices” (117). Kristina Knoll similarly argues, from the perspective of feminist disability studies, for paying attention to the “multitude of disability experiences” (124) that students bring to the classroom. The value of recognizing individual differences is important, not to other students, but to recognize and respect students’ different experiences. This has value for better understanding how students can best learn in the classroom and for understanding how, as teachers, we can create environments that are more accessible to students with many types of differences.

Lastly, feminist pedagogy from a Rhet/Comp perspective has some interesting implications for UD/UDL. Feminist pedagogy examines the way language operates within a gendered world (Jarratt 118). This resonates similarly to the way disability infiltrates language: “In the English language, using disability as a metaphor, an analogy and a derogatory term is common” (Ben-Moshe 107). This is important to address, particularly in a writing classroom that highlights the value of language and rhetorical choices because, as Liat argues, this language is offensive, impedes communication, perpetuates false beliefs, and creates an exclusionary classroom environment (107).

Even in a brief summary, it is clear that feminist pedagogy—its student-centered practices, collaborative and egalitarian values, and its goals for critically examining a gendered/patriarchal (“normed”) society and its social practices—can contribute to a larger discussion of universally designed pedagogies.

Ben-Moshe, Liat. “‘Lame Idea’: Disabling Language in the Classroom.” Building Pedagogical Curb Cuts: Incorporating Disability in the University Classroom and Curriculum. Ed. Liat Ben-Moshe, Rebecca C. Cory, Mia Feldbaum, and Ken Sagendorf. Syracuse, NY: The Graduate School at Syracuse University, 2005. 107-15. Print.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal 14.3 (Fall 2002): 1-32. Print.

Jarratt, Susan C. “Feminist Pedagogy.” A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 113-31. Print.

Jung, Julie. Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2005, Print.

Knoll, Kristina R. “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 19.1 (2008): 122-33. Print.

Collaborative Pedagogies

This week’s readings on higher ed focus on the way different collaborations can create richer pedagogies. These collaborations occur disciplinarily (Knoll), between students and instructors (Knoll and Harrison), among instructors (Bernacchio et al.), and between faculty members and other institutional organizations (Harrison).

In “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy,” Kristina Knoll pays particular attention to collaborative disciplinary work, focusing on how Disability Studies and Feminist Studies can inform each other, providing richer and more accessible pedagogies. Though she acknowledges the benefits of Universal Design, Knoll argues (from a feminist standpoint) for foregrounding individual experiences (122). That is, Knoll advocates a pedagogy that uses both accommodation and UD, arguing that both reproduce oppression and privilege when used on their own (124).

“Feminist disability studies theory and pedagogy urge us not only to take into account the many and varied bodily, mental, and psychological differences, but also to consider how race, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, and so on, can intersect with the disability experience” (Knoll 122).

Knoll also looks at the collaborations that occur between instructors and students when promoting a pedagogy that explores accessibility, ableism, sexism, and privilege. She practices what she calls “interdependency,” which demonstrates to students that not only are they dependent on the instructor, but the instructor is also dependent on the students in order to create a learning environment where everyone can succeed (129). Some examples of this are asking students to read materials aloud, placing students in control of particular activities, and asking students to work together to make the class accessible (such as having notetakers). Knoll writes that “when multiple individuals work together to make the environment accessible, it suddenly becomes significantly easier to meet all the various needs in the classroom, including the instructor’s needs” (129). Thus, collaboration not only becomes an integral part of the classroom, it is the driving force for creating an accessible learning environment for everyone involved. I definitely agree with this because if we try to employ UD practices yet don’t create a participatory learning environment, students still don’t have full access to the learning environment.

Bernacchio et al. move us toward the collaboration that occurs among instructors, reflecting on their Critical Friends Group processes in order to “model a learning community, develop habits of mind, and make graduate school accessible” (56). That is, in order to brainstorm ways to make their own classrooms more equitable, accessible, and flexible, these five faculty members met in a group to discuss their pedagogies through the combined theoretical lenses of Universal Design for Learning and McIntosh’s Interactive Phase Theory. Though this almost just sounded like a group of faculty members brainstorming in very structured settings, the major takeaway here for me is that these faculty members chose to collaborate outside of school to share and collect a “repertoire of instructional tools, strategies and practices that support equity and access” (65). This is an incredible testimony to the desire of instructors to go “above and beyond” traditional pedagogies and what sounds like a really useful collaboration.  I wonder if something with the same goals as the CFG could be adopted departmentally? My master’s program required a certain number of professional development hours each semester, and many of my peers participated in (less structured) collaborative groups where they discussed pedagogy successes, failures, and potentials to do more.

Lastly, Elizabeth Harrison looks at the collaborative efforts between faculty members and institutional organizations, such as Disability Service Offices, in order to better advocate for Universally Designed Instruction (UDI). To frame this collaboration, Harrison focuses on learner-centered education: “what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning” (Weimer xvi qtd. in Harrison 153). This student-focused learning asks teachers to do more with teaching, which is where the collaboration comes in. UD requires Disability Service Professionals to engage in a collaborative relationship with instructors, consulting them in disability-related issues that allow instructors to better identify and dismantle learning barriers (154). Harrison provides a series of pretty great worksheets that instructors can use to 1) identify their goals, 2) determine their learning objectives, and 3) design assessment activities. By going through these processes, then, instructors can move toward UDI that “support[s] the learning of all their many, different learners” (162). I really enjoyed this worksheets because the framework provided is very rhetorical: It asks instructors to reflect on their goals and motivations, what they value in their pedagogies, and investigate the accessibility of their own classroom spaces and practices.

This set of readings really emphasized the importance of collaboration within a variety of contexts and with a number of different collaborators—all with the intention of creating accessible pedagogies that can better serve our students. The only thing I didn’t see in these readings was attention to the collaborative efforts among students themselves. That is, no one was really focusing on how students could collaborate with each other in order to support each other’s learning processes, though Knoll does mention it briefly in her discussion of “practicing interdependency” (129). In Comp/Rhet, collaborative pedagogies often focus on how students collaborate with each other: to brainstorm, draft, and revise together; to compose/create knowledge, and to supplement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. However, Davidson was fresh in my mind during these readings, and I heard her arguments for 21st-century collaborative pedagogies echoed (quietly) within these readings: “Where they perceive the shortcomings of the individual, I sense opportunity for collaboration” (3) …



Bernacchio, Charlie, Flynn Ross, Kimberley Robinson Washburn, Jean Whitney, and Diane R. Wood. “Faculty Collaboration to Improve Equity, Access, and Inclusion in Higher Education.” Equity and Excellence in Education 40.1 (2007): 56-66.

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Harrison, Elizabeth G. “Working with Faculty toward Universally Designed Instruction: The Process of Dynamic Course Design.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 19.2 (2006): 152-62.

Knoll, Kristina R. “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 19.1 (2008): 122-33.