Teaching Philosophy

When it comes to teaching, my philosophy centers around helping students realize their own potential in writing. Students over the years have admitted to me that they always struggled with writing and called themselves “bad” writers and readers. Since this is such a profound and frequent deterrent to students, especially millennial students, my main goal is to show them that writers are made, not born. I am committed to this goal because of the response I have seen in classes when students realize they do have a voice: they have things to say to join the ongoing conversation around them, and when given the chance to experiment and revise without fear of failing the course, they find their way to coherent, intelligent, and even passionate pieces of writing.

While I witness students struggle against the “bad writer” belief in all of my classes, the Composition courses feature these students most of all. My goals in Intro to Composition and Composition I, then, follow a scaffolding method of building skill upon skill. A literacy narrative is usually the first project in order for students to place themselves within the context of a larger conversation; indeed, the overall context for all the assignments and reading discussions is that conversation and communication occur all around them if they learn to recognize how an author tries to reach their audience and why. This conversation occurs in many different ways, and a method to emphasize that to students is the beginning literacy narrative project. There are many types of literacies, from academic and critical literacies that they think of first regarding education and analysis, to cultural literacies involving racial, regional, and religious customs and more, and even digital literacies involving everything they do online. Detail is emphasized at this stage in the writing process in order to encourage them to expand and elaborate their thoughts. When a student is able to write a literacy narrative on her experience reading and learning family recipes written by her mother for traditional Hindi dishes, or when another student writes about his passion for science and discovering the language of chemistry elements and numbers, those students makes a connection that they might otherwise have overlooked had I asked them only to write about an experience they had learning to read or write in school.

Once students have this footstep into the context of an ongoing critical conversation happening all around them, they are ready to hear other “voices” and respond. The rhetorical analysis project, for instance, is a fairly common project in Composition, but I try to expand it in favor of the students. I give them options that we practice in class, from responding to a flyer they found on campus, to their favorite movie or song, to a painting in the student art gallery, to a commercial from the Super Bowl, and to writings in blogs and newspaper entries, all the way to academic articles. The concepts of pathos, ethos, and logos are easier to comprehend when they have vastly different examples of them at work. Approaching a piece of conversation—whatever its medium—from the outside lets students simply observe and note what they think the author’s or artist’s intentions were, to whom they were trying to communicate, and what makes it effective or ineffective. Clarity is emphasized at this stage of their writing in order to strengthen the explanations in their analysis. Several African-American students, for instance, brought their experiences to the table by analyzing the purposes, responses, and vast importance of representation in Marvel’s Black Panther by analyzing scenes, characters, and interview material. The rhetorical analysis project offers yet another opportunity to place the student in the authoritative role of the writer. Instead of looking to me to tell them what I think a piece of conversation is saying, they are urged to decide what they think. Instead of being afraid that they’re “wrong” about it, they are encouraged to follow their instinct and back up their support with evidence and explanation.

2016-04-26-10-40-13

Pushing students to see their own place within the ongoing cultural and political conversation extends to Literature Survey courses and even Technical Writing. Similar to their approach to writing, many students believe they are inherently “bad” readers, and most of the time it is a result of poor high school experiences involving texts they were required to read. I often start the course with lessons on how to read literature properly, as well as how to evaluate the context of any given text. History is always related to world literature, and cannot be glossed over if we are to help students appreciate the larger context of a piece of writing and its author. Whether it is a brief lesson on culture and war history of Vietnam in order to properly understand poems by South Vietnamese authors, or a small survey of postcolonial theory itself through authors like Albert Memmi in order to understand Things Fall Apart, the context is essential. I use texts by Jamaica Kincaid, Amy Tan, and Joy Harjo and others to show global perspective by current authors, and yet, texts such as Gilgamesh and Ama Ata Aidoo’s play, Anowa, remain student favorites. I incorporate media clips from documentaries or from the authors themselves for students to see and hear, such as an interview with Aidoo on feminism. Then their discussion board post or homework response would be to find textual evidence of where Aidoo confronts feminism in Anowa. I often bring their discussion board comments up in class later to foster discussion as we analyze their responses even further, and more importantly, together, so that those struggling with the content may benefit from open dialogue. In another assignment, I may ask students to reconstruct our Shakespeare play for the semester (usually either Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello) into a 21st century context, where they write the basis for a new play by changing details of their choosing while also having to explain their motive. I have found that allowing students to assert more authority in their engagement with the texts helps them discover their own experience with it, in how they relate to its characters or better understand its message.

Technical writing students are normally upperclassmen and are able to use the course for their practical benefit as they construct their resumés and cover letters. This course is also the ultimate scaffolding curriculum because I emphasize the way their contributions to the ongoing conversation in Composition I, Composition II, and World Literature relate to these technical documents. Even though the style of writing has changed, there remains an overall purpose defined by both the document itself and the context of the audience to which it is aimed. A company’s logo design and their website aesthetic are choices made with the same rhetorical elements of pathos, ethos, and logos. Technical Writing also deals heavily in ethics and how companies engage with communication that follows rights, justice, utility, and care. One assignment, for example, lets students practice this connection by analyzing local business websites, and then creating their own professional websites in order to see the importance of understanding their audience. They have to make the same choices for design and content as they analyzed for the local businesses, as well as decide how to follow ethical concepts.

2016-04-26-10-40-27-copy

In all of these methods for these different courses, I follow my main philosophy of helping students realize their potential in writing by erasing the notion that strong writers are born instead of made. When students recognize the ongoing conversation around them and learn how to enter it and begin engaging themselves because they do have a voice and a right to make it heard, they can more easily identify why writing concepts such as structure, clarity of argument, order, and word choice are necessary. I assess students throughout the semester holistically, giving equal weight to each of their main projects to show that I do not value one over the other. Revision is stressed and demonstrated throughout the semester to show that it is not simply a matter of fixing what is weak, but is changing what could be even better. Anonymous class workshops engage in this distinction and provide feedback on what is working in the draft and what could be stronger. I share my own writing practices and experiences with students: I admit certain grammar and citation rules I struggle with, and I show them ways I learned to get around difficult assignments and how to really make use of the school’s library database.

I have used both traditional grading as well as course contracts, and while I have found that the course contract provides students greater ease in knowing that their labor and efforts toward improvement will be heavily considered, they still find even more ease in receiving a letter grade. As a result, I generally incorporate the theories of the grading contract assessment into each of their assignments that result in a matching grade they can see; therefore, I look for overall clarity, cohesion, and adherence to the lesson requirements themselves, rather than grading for the “SAE correctness” of the content. Students, especially my first-generation college students and those with low writing confidence, find this assessment freeing in knowing their overall effort and ability to complete an assignment according to instructions is their manageable goal, rather than attempting to write a perfect paper they think the Instructor will want.

In teaching electives, such as creative writing, the same philosophy is still followed. Students who think they cannot write poetry think so because at one point they attempted it and were criticized by either a teacher or classmate. Students who are afraid to write fiction are often concerned that what they want to write is not what the instructor will want to read. The middle ground in workshops then, is in reading examples by short story authors and poets, as well as essayists for those interested in nonfiction. A combination of this with craft technique readings and discussions provides students a foundation to try their own work with confidence. Workshops function the same way they are used to in their other writing courses, but with more detail and in longer written feedback and class discussion. Still, the goal is to examine the writing itself and determine what is working and what could be made stronger. No matter what writing course I teach, I enjoy being a facilitator to guide students into realizing their own voice and their own potential. When they understand the ongoing conversation, they find ways to enter it through the techniques they learn and the ideas they form. It is through this process that they realize the writers they can be and the messages they can amplify in their communities.

Save

Save