Nota bene: I wrote this teaching philosophy when I was in graduate school when I went on the market (ca. 2005/2006). I return to it yearly (as with many things when we are asked to reflect and to produce an institutionally required annual evaluation).
I am surprised every time I re-read it that it still holds. The three principles outlined here have amazingly held up well and still reflect the main tenets of how I approach teaching. The one change I made this year (12/20) was to remove the reference to the “digital” in the technologies section. At this point, I have been questioning why we need the digital in front of “technology” or even in front of “writing.” While, of course, we can have some interesting discussions around this removal, it seems that in the present day and time it’s a good step to focus on the way technologies are integrated into everything we do.
My teaching philosophy is grounded in the ideas of collaboration, active learning, and critical intellectualism. I want students to look at what language does and how it does it so they can be better producers of information and better, more critical, consumers of information. Thus, my primary concern as a teacher is to encourage both undergraduates and graduate students to think for themselves and challenge or extend conventional wisdom. As someone who primarily teaches communication (written, verbal, visual, digital, technical), I want students to be able to situate their communicative acts within rhetorical contexts, whether those situations are writing for their jobs or entering into more public or political conversations, to achieve their purpose.
Open Collaborative Classroom
The principle of cooperative exchange guides my pedagogy. My job is to facilitate the examination of the the subject matter to students and also to help facilitate the transfer and exchange of knowledge and experience among and between the students themselves. I strive to encourage what Gerald Graff calls “hidden intellectualism,” 1 since all students have something uniquely theirs to contribute, complicate, and confound classroom discussion. It is my job to ensure they are able and willing to share it.
Embedded within this idea of facilitator is collaboration. We – the students and I – are working together, collaboratively, to learn and to write. The safe environment of the college writing classroom is an ideal arena for students to work with, to learn from, and to teach their peers through the process of collaboration.
To create an open collaborative classroom, we talk about collaboration in its many forms, respecting alternate opinions, and diverse talents and ways of learning. I am open about my own experiences and am quick to say I am an authority or expert but I am not the authority or expert. By decentering the classroom space, I want to create room for the students to assert themselves and to teach one another and me, developing reciprocity and cooperation among students.
Writing is Real
Students often fail to realize the importance of writing to their lives, and they often harbor misconceptions about writing. As teacher, I have to be honest about how difficult writing is, but I, also, have to remind students that writing gets easier through practice, revision, and reflection. Incorporating variants of service learning, writing for the community, or client-based projects, students begin to understand how important writing is. By working on something “real,” students then see the direct correlation between writing and the impact of that writing in a particular context.
Another way to make the connection is through extensive examples. I use three types of examples: historical examples, student examples, and examples from documents and essays I have written in the workplace and in my academic career. I work to bring a historical sensibility to the classroom by introducing students to historical examples as another way to complicate their conceptions of writing. By analyzing historical and modern documents, students are able to make conscious and informed decisions about their own work, and begin to understand the cultural, political, and economic realities of writing through time. Showing examples from the students’ own work further encourages their active participation in the writing and learning objectives of the class, and it allows the students to discuss, critique, and offer suggestions that everyone can then incorporate into their own work. In using examples that I have written, I hope to show two important ideas: I have done the things I ask them to do and even experienced writers can improve.
Writing relies on technologies, and students are expected to compose using a wide variety of technologies. Composing digitally can mean drafting an assignment on a word processor, participating in an online discussion, contributing to a class blog, or posting to a discussion board. It can also mean something more complicated like a multi-media text including hyperlinks, visuals, and sound. I want to engage students in writing digitally by helping them to understand and critique the way technology constructs and creates knowledge, in other words to expand their technological literacy. Technology integration allows me to bolster the educational goals and objectives and to open up the classroom space for students to participate in and contribute to their own learning in meaningful ways.
I incorporate both practical, hands-on applications of technologies and critical evaluation of those technologies. We discuss the pros and cons of technologies and how decisions are often made based in organizations. Specifically, we examine how decisions about campus computing resources can reflect the economic realities of the workplace. I cultivate the students’ technological literacy, as well as continuing to expand their print literacy, through evaluation and discussion of digital information and texts. We analyze images and links and digital compositions by critically assessing their component parts much like the explication of a poem or short story.
Philosophies evolve, and sometimes, they evolve mid-way through the semester or mid-way through class or after careful and thoughtful reflection. I strive to reflect, just as we want our writing students to reflect, on my teaching practices. I re-adjust my own practices based on the successes and failures of the semester and the often-thoughtful comments from student evaluations.
I am reminded again of a line from “Petals on a Wet Black Bough”: “[I] find [myself] in process, struggling to articulate a process that is articulating [me], too” (114). Understanding this struggle and this process is the first, important step of writing and teaching.
1.Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture.Vol.1 No.1 (2001): 21-36.
2.Vielstimmig, Myka. “‘Petals on a Wet Black Bough: Textuality, Collaboration, and the New Essay.” Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies, eds. Hawisher and Selfe. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 1999, 89-126.