Professor Sarojini Nadar


2. Methods of Teaching and Supervision: Contextual, Communal and Challenging 

In the section below, I will reflect on my methods of teaching and supervision and will draw evidence from 2010 to 2013. In 2010 and 2011 I was involved with more module teaching and in 2012 and 2013 due to my tenure as a Dean of Research, my teaching involved supervision. I believe that supervision is teaching, and I build this philosophy into my supervision methods which involves stimulating higher-order thinking. The details of the teaching done are based on the tables which the university generates as part of monitoring and evaluating teaching, which I have reproduced below. In line with my contextual feminist pedagogical teaching philosophy, my methods are contextual, communal and challenging in both content and form, as will be evidenced below.

2a) Module Teaching (since 2010)

Module Teaching 2010

Module Teaching 2011

The methods which I primarily use are seminars; small-group work which involves narrative, anecdotes and even drama as well as directive and intensive teaching.


“Our classes were more seminars so as to encourage our participation in class…”
“ [The] seminar system approach helped to deepen the themes of the course.”
Students: THEO 716/816: 2011

In line with my feminist pedagogical commitment to the creation of a democratic classroom, I prefer seminars to lectures as a teaching method, as seminars allow for more interactive learning to occur. Here I provide input through PowerPoint presentations, but elicit dialogue through the use of pictures, DVD’s; blogs and cartoons which accompany my PowerPoint presentations. Refer to APPENDIX E1 for an example of a PowerPoint used in my teaching in the course “Issues of Masculinity and Gender” (THEO736/836). The students watched a DVD (See APPENDIX F) of “The Mighty Men’s Conference” which was the case study under consideration, and they also logged onto live blogs providing commentary on the Mighty Men’s Conference. So the seminars were equally inductive and deductive (provision of input as well as encouragement of student participation).

Small Group Work: Use of Narrative, Anecdotes and Drama 

“Participation was encouraged through small group discussions”
Student: RELG702/2010

Decades of feminist pedagogical practice, have shown how and why narratives work so well in “the feminist classroom” (hooks 1989:50) and in feminist discourse4. It is because feminist pedagogy engages students “in a learning process that makes the world “more real than less real” (hooks 1989:51). One of my methods of teaching has been small group work which encourages peer learning. In these groups I provide students with real narratives and case studies to work with and we together derive the theory out of their reflections. As hooks shows:

The feminist classroom—is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is visible acknowledgment of the union of theory and practice, where we work together as teachers and students to overcome the estrangement and alienation that have become so much the norm in the contemporary university…In my classrooms, we work to dispel the notion that our experience is not a ‘real world’ experience (1989:51).

Narratives and anecdotes also work in bigger classes as I reflected on in a publication (Nadar 2009a:137)

A few years back I taught a course on Gender, Religion, and Ethics to a first-year class at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In explaining the term gender, I employed an oft-used anecdote that exposes the ways in which gender stereotyping nurtures our biases. The story goes like this. A father and son are traveling in a car. They meet with an accident and unfortunately, the father is killed immediately in the crash, while the son is rushed to a hospital where it is deemed that he needs emergency surgery. The surgeon who has to operate on the boy walks into the operating room, sees the boy, and exclaims, “Goodness, this is my son!” My question to the class of almost four hundred students is how is this possible? Only about twenty students know the answer—the surgeon is, of course, the mother. This revelation creates quite a flurry of conversation in class, but then I lead the students into a discussion of why the students couldn’t imagine the possibility of the surgeon being the mother. Most then agree that it was because we are socialized to think of certain jobs or careers being associated with women or men. The class even gives examples of careers they thought were for men only—engineers, priests, truck drivers, and so on.

While we were going through the exercise, I realized that there were three male students sitting at the front of the class who were clearly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. Eventually, one put his hand up and announced that notwithstanding all the things we were talking about regarding gender construction, the question that remained for him was that if there were statistically more male doctors than female doctors, then did that not prove that men have a higher intellectual capacity to be medical doctors than women? I replied that I was not sure if his statistics were true to begin, but I decided to share with him some statistics of my own. At the time, in our university, almost 90 percent of full professors were white and male. My question to him and the class was is this because white people have a higher intellectual capacity than black people and black women, in particular, to be professors? A hush came over the class and the three students who happened to be black quickly changed tack and began to explain how apartheid had actively prevented black people from gaining access to equal education and other opportunities in South Africa. We then engaged in a discussion about how women also were actively prevented from pursuing their own interests through systemized and even naturalized patriarchy (Nadar 2009a:137-138).

Through the use of this narrative, I was able to explicate all the key terms I wanted to such as social constructionism, gender, patriarchy, and androcentricism etc. It was a far more creative and lasting form of learning than the traditional rote learning or the provision of a glossary of terms. 

Carolissen et al (2011:165) conclude similarly on the use of narrative in a curriculum project across the Universities of Stellenbosch and the Western Cape:

The value of emotion, biographies and human connectedness that bell hooks emphasises as central to creating a pedagogy of hope was demonstrated by the teaching process and creative media used by guest speakers. Whether speakers used their own narratives or those of others as reflected in film, video installations or poetry, they displayed a vulnerability, humility and a consciousness of the power of relationality in teaching and learning. It is precisely this that made the classroom a place where trust could allow risk-taking and in so doing the classroom became a potentially transformative space for students and educators where they could engage in dialogue about intensely political issues through their lived experiences. (Carolissen et al 2011: 165).

Teaching Aids

“The outline and objectives of the module were clear and detailed.”
“Very detailed, clear and systematic.”
Students: THEO 735/835:2011

I believe that good methods of teaching must be accompanied by well-organised teaching tools and aids. The following are some of the teaching aids which I use:

  1. Detailed Module Outlines which contain course expectations (see APPENDIX D1 for an undergraduate co-taught module outline and APPENDIX D2 for an example of a postgraduate module outline taught by myself).

  2. "While in Oslo, we also invited her to teach a class on African Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics, and my colleague and I witnessed how her research came alive in the classroom too."
    Prof. Jone Salamonsen
    University of Oslo, Norway

    Peer Evaluation: APPENDIX C7
    “[The readings were] appropriate to the module and helpful to the Masters and PHD research”
    Student: THEO735/835:2011
    “[Readings] appropriate and very well organised (in book form) ☺”
    Student: RELG702/2010
    Course Readers which are given to students in advance. Students are deeply appreciative of this.

    In addition, for Honours and Masters students, I aim to link my module teaching in the classroom to the research process and students are often able to make the link between the module teaching and the research process and write-up of the dissertation, even though the classroom teaching is more content based. I also use my own research as a basis for my teaching.

  3. “She is always well-prepared and uses a Power Point presentation to lead the students through the theme of the lecture. She is a lively and interesting lecturer and draws the students into discussion of the theme with questions which help them expand their understanding of the subject.”
    Prof. Susan Rakoczy
    St. Joseph’s Theological Institute, South Africa
    PowerPoint Presentations (Students are provided with hard copies of the presentation).
    As already mentioned, while my method of teaching is facilitative, I feel it is important to provide the students with input with which to engage. For this purpose I have found PowerPoint to be a very useful tool. I try to make the PowerPoint’s as interesting as possible and often put in controversial and challenging pictures on the PowerPoint’s to stimulate discussion. (See Appendices E1 for an example of PowerPoint presentations used in class).
2b) Postgraduate Supervision (since 2010)

In line with my belief about creating a “community of practice”, my role in postgraduate supervision occurs on individual as well as group levels:

Postgraduate Supervision 2010

Postgraduate Supervision 2011

Postgraduate Supervision 2012

“The manner in which she works through the drafts was instrumental in developing and sharpening our writing skills, as she sat with each of us individually and worked through the work which we presented to her. The process of simultaneously reading through the draft together, correcting it, highlighting areas which need attention and making suggestions of where improvements could be made was far more helpful than receiving a document back which had simply been edited with track changes.”

Individual Supervision – My supervision of individual students occurs primarily within the Gender and Religion programme which I coordinated up until 2012. My supervisory role is built on the principles of feminist engagement which I subscribe to. As with my teaching style in the classroom, which is dialogical, my students and I often have a conversation around their work, and while I am directive I am also engaging.

“This was a breath of fresh air for me. Prof Nadar would work through the night to read through my chapters and provide feedback as soon as was humanly possible.”

Before I meet with a student I insist on having something written to work with. From my side, I try to provide as timeous feedback as possible (usually within two weeks, but much quicker as we get toward submission time). However, I have to admit that the principle of prompt supervision feedback, which I adhere to, was really challenged by the management and administrative tasks that the position of Dean for Research demanded, as the accompanying adjacent text-box reveals.  

“There were also times that she would not respond in time and I knew she was busy as she had just taken up a new position as dean of research in humanities.”

Nevertheless, I always communicate with the student so that s/he is fully apprised of the situation, and I always make up for the time lost. In addition to providing written feedback I also find that sitting with students and reading through drafts together (a very communal way of working, and typical of African feminist working paradigms), is extremely helpful and helps expedite the process.

I use the written feedback as a basis for face-to-face consultations. (See APPENDIX G for an example of written feedback and comments on postgraduate work). Furthermore, I aim to provide directed feedback to my students especially at Masters level, and this is why 6 of the 9 Masters students who completed after 2010 graduated in the minimum time of 1 year.

“My supervisor organized “work in progress seminars” from formulating a research topic to the completion of the project, where we (students under her supervision) had to present our work at whatever level our work was. These seminars helped enhance my passion for the work as I would interact with other students and other lecturers too and engage constructive discussions concerning my work. The comments received during such seminars were so beneficial, useful and made it easy to go back and work on the dissertation with passion.”

Group Supervision – This involves organising “work in progress” student seminars for the Gender and Religion Programme so that students can receive feedback from both their peers and their professors. (See APPENDIX H for a programme of a “work in progress from 2010).





[4] See for example, Deats and Lenker (1994); Harraway (1988), Kenway and Modra (1993). 

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