Teaching Philosophy

The best moments for me are when my students and I not only write and learn together, but see what we do as purposeful and relevant beyond classroom walls. For me, building classroom community has a lot to do with establishing shared goals and sharing work as writers. I’ve taught first-year composition courses in the contexts of two public four-year institutions as well as upper-level writing courses in academic argumentation and professional communication. Most recently, I had the opportunity to work with English teacher candidates in a School of Education as their field instructor. These diverse classroom experiences have shaped me as a teacher who, foremost, prioritizes their individual learning needs as well as the unique demands of their pathways and careers that inform their writing and thinking. I guide students to see the value in their work and the process of intensive review is one way of celebrating and sharing ideas to improve their writing. For example, through what I call an “intensive review” process, I aim to create a room of writers in which I am one of those writers. For intensive review, one student shares their work with the whole class. Prior to the intensive review session, the writer provides a memo identifying any questions or areas of focus. In turn, readers come to class prepared with feedback that is meant to move the writer forward in their writing. One way to ensure that students see this activity as part of developing our writing community, is for me to volunteer for the first intensive review of the semester. That means I write the first assignment—usually a personal narrative—with students and garner feedback from them. In one way, I’m modeling the intensive review for students to make sure they meet all the guidelines of this process. More importantly though, I hope that students see me as a fellow writer and learner, who seeks to improve her writing.

While students are at first intimidated by the idea of 20+ people reading and providing feedback for their writing, as the semester continues, activities like intensive review seem to have a positive effect on students and their writing experiences. For one, students are more eager to volunteer to participate in the next round of intensive review. And two, during each round, when students make connections between their peers’ writing and published readings we’ve read together in class, it becomes even more clear to me that students are invested in the intensive review process. Importantly, students demonstrate that they are supporting each other to improve each other’s work. In their course evaluations, one of my students reflected, “Even more helpful were the intensive reviews. Going through students’ papers all together in the class setting was not only helpful to those receiving the advice. It also got us all exposed to different writing, and more often than not, many of the issues raised about someone’s paper applied to many other students as well.” Providing opportunities for students to work together through intensive review and dedicating time to other activities like individual conferencing helps me to see progress students make in their writing and but also how they are engaging with each other in the classroom. The collaborative nature of a jigsaw activity, for example, prompts my pre-service teachers in the School of Education to locate and report out about useful resources for emerging best practice and literacy implementation to their peers. Similar to how intensive review works in my undergraduate writing courses, I facilitate activities like this to offer a structured, collaborative approach for a shared, generation of knowledge. Even more importantly, these activities validate my students’ knowledge and expertise, which they are developing as they student teach in local K-12 classrooms.

Another important aspect of fostering classroom community is to understand where students are coming from and where they would like to go in their academic and professional careers. My assignments, then, usually require students to do primary and hands-on research, which allows students to feel like their personal, academic, or professional interests hold value beyond the walls of the classroom. When students do hands-on research for my classroom, it not only gives them a sense of investment in their writing, but also allows them to explore their interests beyond classroom walls. For example, students in my first-year writing course complete a community research assignment for which students observe a community of their choice and collect observation field notes. The goal is for students to synthesize their primary research with secondary research to compose a compelling and unique argument. For example, one student, while investigating how student-athletes are portrayed on college campuses, conducted interviews with her softball coach, student-athletes across campus, and incorporated her personal experience with her research findings. She not only wrote a substantial research essay but created a companion video to demonstrate her findings and as she put it, “to put a human face on the lives of student-athletes.”

In a different upper-level writing course I teach, students create immersion projects, through the “Project:Experiment” assignment. For this assignment, students not only research a topic of interest, but also supplement their research with a 30-day experiment related to their research topic. By immersing themselves into their topic of interest, students establish an ethos within their arguments by being able to speak from their own immersion experience. While researching the significance of the experimental film genre, another student created his own films to better understand the inner workings of the genre. The experimental-film-and-once-reluctant-student reflected on his experience in my classroom, “I balked at the fresh ideas of blogging…or scooting desks together to work in groups. But then something strange developed, a community.” The once reluctant student further explained, “a teacher who turned someone so intent on flying under the radar into a person who created their first blog, their first meme, and their first experimental film…a teacher believing in one of my papers enough to think I should try to publish it. I’m truly saying goodbye to this community with a heavy heart and a pat on the back I never expected.” This student supports my broader philosophy that if students are able to write about what interests them, they will find motivation and voice in their work to explore various genres and develop their rhetorical awareness.

At the end of each semester, I ask students to write a reflection about their writing challenges and triumphs. This is also an opportunity to get feedback on how I design my courses and for students to tell me what they believe they have contributed to broader, ongoing conversations the investigated in my class. The student-athlete highlighted above reflected: “I brought light to the athletic world and hopefully combatted the negative reputation it may sometimes have. Although I am only a college student, I hope I could speak for student athletes who do not want to be put in that category.” The thing is, this student is not “only a college student.” Importantly, she is an independent, critical thinker, who did meaningful work she cared about to speak out and reach broader audiences. I work to build community in my classroom so that we all, as writers, teachers, and thinkers, can lift each other up to see that we are not “only college students” or only “a teacher who gives out the grade”, but that the work done in any classroom I teach, holds relevance beyond classroom walls.