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Diverse Gender Expression and Gender Non-Conformity Curriculum in English Grades 7-12

Prepared by the Gender and Literacy Assembly of NCTE 2013-14


An equitable focus on issues honoring a range of diverse expressions related to gender and gender non-conformity in the ELA classroom is necessary to meet all students' needs and to help all students develop complex ways of understanding gender. We recognize that gendered divisions and definitions are unsatisfactory at best, destructively limiting at worst, because classrooms are typically set up to reflect sustaining heteronormativity and gender roles. Instead, we hope to encourage a continued, fluid recognition of "gender" as something that is complex, incomplete, infused with cultural power discourses of race, class, socioeconomics, sexuality, and much, much more.  As such we believe that gender equity is not a "female" or "male" concern, but a universal issue.  

Because gender equity is a universal issue, it is imperative that English language arts educators develop a lens through which they can see and think critically about gender, gender expression, sexuality, and gender non-conformity. Through this lens, students would consider how gender and sexuality are represented in a range of texts; would gain awareness regarding gendered and heteronormative expectations; would work with texts featuring a diverse range of people (including those who are LGBTQ and/or gender non-conforming); and would express their own perspectives regarding these representations and expectations. English language arts teachers can read our profession through this lens, including, but not limited to, issues of pedagogy, curriculum, and classroom discourses. Teacher education must provide students with ongoing opportunities to develop this lens, as well as meaningful educational opportunities, to consider how it might be used in secondary education classrooms. Developing such a lens for use in the secondary English classroom is an ethical, intellectual, and social imperative that provides students with opportunities to engage in critical readings of multiple texts and the world around them.

Gender Studies in the New Millennium

In developing this lens, English language arts teachers must draw upon current gender studies to increase their understanding of gender and other identity positions, but also to deepen their capacities for thinking critically about the assumptions embedded in the ways knowledge is shaped, legitimized, and delivered in text and composition.

Literature, Digital Media, and Popular Culture

Reading Literature
Literature remains at the heart of the ELA classroom. As such, continued attention must be directed toward developing inclusive curricula that provide students with meaningful exposure to different perspectives and ways of being in the world. While important progress has been made in this regard, it is imperative that we continue to include literary works by women in the ELA curriculum as well as works featuring LGBTQ characters. It is also essential that we encourage students to employ a gendered or gender non-conforming lens when reading both new and canonical literature. Students must be encouraged to examine how gender is represented in such texts and what implications such representations may have.

Composing with the Printed Word
Students must have opportunities to examine issues of gender and gender non-conformity both personally and academically through the written word. We envision pedagogy that provides students with opportunities to examine issues of gender in their own lives as well as the literature they are reading.

Gender and New Literacies
"Literacies" no longer refers to merely the printed word. YouTube, Google, music videos, Facebook, and Twitter can all become sites of interrogation and participation. Thus, English language arts teachers can no longer restrict their definition of literacy to only writing and reading the printed word. Digital forms of communication including social networking, Web design, digital video and audio composing, and other forms of digital communication must be included within the English language arts curriculum. ELA teachers must develop instructional practices that allow students to employ a gendered or gender non-conforming lens while reading, composing, and communicating with these new digital tools for both personal and academic purposes.

Students shape and are shaped by popular culture. The ELA classroom must provide them with an opportunity to consider the ways gender- and sexuality-related issues are taken up in popular media. Popular culture provides rich opportunities for young people to employ a gendered lens to conduct personal and academic readings of the world.  Teachers should engage students in television, film, advertisements, and other forms of popular media. In doing so they must work to create a dialogue across texts, self, and world.

A natural reaction to these texts may be suspicion or fear, but ELA instructors must have a nuanced understanding of how students are comprehending and consuming these texts. Instead of a predatory stance to these texts, ELA teachers must take up inquiry alongside their students as they examine how popular culture affects and is affected by young people.

Textual Production
These out-of-school literacy practices must be invited into the classroom, recognizing their roles as texts that are produced by and that actively produce student lives and experiences.

Implications for ELA Teacher Educators

Provide new and preservice teachers with opportunities to:

  1. Read literature using a gendered or gender non-conforming lens.
  2. Read popular culture and mass media texts with a gendered lens.
  3. Consider the role gender or gender non-conforming issues have played in their lives.
  4. Consider issues of equity based on gender and sexuality in people's social, economic, and civic lives.
  5. Develop meaningful instructional strategies that provide students with opportunities to do the same.


By learning to read through a gendered lens and by posing challenges to the gender binary, students become consciously aware of gendered constructions of identity and their role as both consumers and possible producers of meaning. This act is potentially liberating for students who develop habits of mind that provide them the opportunity to engage more completely with their world(s). 

See also 

Websites for lesson plans for gender representation (grades 9-12) 

Selective Bibliography on Gender in the Classroom with Emphasis on Gender and Media Literacy


Members of the Gender and Literacy Assembly of NCTE (formerly known as the Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (WILLA) of NCTE) 2013-14: Deborah Bertlesman, James Cercone, Pamela Hartman, Katherine Macro, Heather Killelea McEntarfer, Candice Moench, Melissa Shanahan, and Susan Schroeder


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