In school, I was a troublemaker.
I was assigned to write punitive essays that began, “Why I will never (insert offense here) again.” I was instructed to copy pages from Merriam-Websters Dictionary. I was even made to recite from memory Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”
Not once was I penalized with a chemistry lab.
My pedagogical philosophy underscores the importance of honoring the craft of writing in the classroom by changing students’ perceptions from writing as a punishment to writing itself as an academic subject to be mastered, not unlike chemistry.
Indeed, I want to whip up my students’ enthusiasm for writing. I want to encourage my students to become more engaged and inquisitive learners, more powerful critical thinkers, and better arguers. Really, I want to empower my students with the confidence to write at any level, in any domain: academic, professional, or personal.
If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.
My primary teaching goal is to help my students reach a level of proficiency where they can spend their time mastering their thoughts.
Writing is hard. I want my students to understand that the struggle of a blank Word document and blinking cursor applies to all writers, whether enrolled in a first-year writing course, polishing a dissertation, or teaching the class. I want my students to view writing as a process. Well, not only a process, but a complex, stepwise method of brainstorming, outlining, writing, peer-reviewing, revising, and editing. Learning to write takes place over time with continued practice and informed guidance. That’s where I step in. The best way to improve our writing is by writing–and revising–as much as we can. Accordingly, I design my courses with a heavy emphasis on writing: we write often, in reflective journals at home, in freewrites during classtime, in peer-review workshops, in responses on online discussion boards, and, of course, in multiple drafts of class assignments.
Student-centered, active-learning teaching methods best contribute to my goals for students’ learning. In the classroom, I promote active learning through implementing strategies that incorporate movement from smaller spheres to wider spheres with the classroom, including independent freewrites, individual writing conferences, peer-review workshops, goal-oriented small-group exercises, and whole-class discussions. By adopting a mixture of such methods, I hope to capitalize upon diverse learning styles of my students and, in turn, maximize my students’ intellectual growth.
There are three rules for writing…Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
–W. Somerset Maugham
Another goal is to cultivate an active, safe, and nurturing classroom climate, where my students are not afraid to raise their hands, say the wrong thing, or take a small risk when exploring a new concept. For me, student-centered, active learning is important, and a certain kind of risk-taking is important in learning. When I was a student, my favorite classes had us jumping up to write examples on the board, engaging in discussions, or otherwise, even privately on paper, taking intellectual risks without fear.
I studied pedagogical theory at Florida International University, and thanks to its progressive vision of what good teachers should do when they teach rhetoric, I have been trained well. I was taught using the same theories I was learning to use, so I experienced them from a student’s view. Sure, when we were first asked to get into groups, I rolled my eyes the same way my first-year writing students do, but soon experienced the value of good peer-response activities.
Goal-oriented, team-based activities in the classroom teach students to build the scaffolding for final results in stages. By reviewing works-in-progress in collaborative peer groups, students develop flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proofreading; understand the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes; and learn to balance the advantages of relying on others with the responsibility of doing their part. Small groups promote the kind of talk that leads to thoughtful and elaborated writing. Exercises in scaffolding techniques, breaking down a large assignment into smaller parts, and addressing writing concepts within these small parts, ultimately helps students bridge concepts together to end up with a “whole” product that they might not be able to otherwise build on their own. I also am not afraid to stray off schedule and take a day to discuss an overall skill that I notice is weak in the class, or questions they might have about a difficult assignment.
I am aware that students’ abilities and interests affect how they learn. I make deliberate rhetorical decisions when communicating to help reach a variety of them in an unimpeded way. For composition classes, I use multi-media and online resources for visual learners, I make regular use of lecture and discussion for auditory learners, and I have group work and at-the-board activities for the kinesthetic learners. Because I believe that collaboration and idea collision is healthy for creativity, I encourage my students to post work on discussion boards, share notes with others, and see me for one-on-one conferences.