Although my teaching experience varies – it includes technical and first year writing courses at three different institutions – my philosophy of teaching remains the same across all of my courses. I begin with the recognition that my students are already writers. My goals in the writing classroom are to make them recognize themselves as writers and to become more critical, thoughtful writers in whatever avenues they pursue. I want students to leave my classes understanding why they are writing in a particular genre or for a particular audience, in addition to how to write well for those situations. Most importantly, I want students to understand the human elements of what they write: how does their writing affect their audiences?
Reflecting on the writing experience
To accomplish these goals, I begin each course with activities and assignments that push students to examine their previous formal and informal writing experiences. I am explicit about my own experiences as a writer, introducing an unfamiliar and intensely personal writing situation in a way that makes them more open to being vulnerable and honest in their own reflection. Following each assignment, students also write brief assessments of their writing experiences in that assignment. At the end of the semester, they revisit those assessments to learn what, if anything, has changed in their writing process.
Seeing familiar genres with new eyes
Following Bazerman and Prior (2003), students in my classes learn to understand what writing does and – more importantly – how writing does what it does. They do so by considering familiar rhetorical situations and genres with new eyes, sometimes literally. For example, students in my first-year writing classes develop descriptions of a place that is familiar to them, but they must do so using ethnographic observation and interview methods. Student groups in my technical writing classes tackle the instructions assignment by trying to follow different versions of an instruction set; as they begin to compare notes, they learn what characteristics of the genre are necessary for audiences to understand and complete the process.
Creating a flexible classroom
I also recognize that students come to my classroom having different skill levels and prior experiences with writing, so I develop assignments and classroom activities that are flexible enough to accommodate their varied learning needs. To create a safe space for students to practice their writing, I provide regular in-class workshops during the semester in which students get the opportunity to brainstorm, draft, revise, or edit their assignments. In these sessions, they can also bring their questions and concerns about their writing. During these workshops, I approach students’ work as a writing coach. Sometimes this approach involves encouraging students to trust their instincts when they are having difficulty getting started on an assignment. Other times, it requires a tough-love discussion of revisions.
This flexibility also extends into classroom policy and activities. For example, I ask students in all of my classes to learn and use the citation and knowledge practices that are commonly used in their majors. This practice encourages students to consider that writing and research continue well beyond the courses that are explicitly designated as writing classes. Rather, as students learn about the types of writing and citation styles required in their future courses and potential careers, they come to understand that different forms of writing are inextricably linked with knowledge creation.