Over the course of my teaching career, I have had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses including First Year Composition Courses (ENG 101 and 102), Strategies of Academic Writing (ENG 215), Writing for the Professions (ENG 301), and Introduction to New Media Studies (FMS 110). I was also fortunate enough to lead a graduate-level practicum on Multimodal Curriculum Design (ENG 594). I approach each of these courses with a sense of excitement to work with students and to create with students meaningful learning experiences in our classroom. In order to do this, I enact the teaching principles of focusing on learner-centered empowerment, cultivating critical consumers, and tough-love mentorship.
Much of my approach to teaching is grounded in feminist pedagogical tenets, and I work to encourage reflexivity and learner empowerment in my classroom. In particular, these strategies have been influenced by bell hooks’ approach to critical pedagogy, Gesa Kirsch and Joy Ritchie’s theorization of location within the writing classroom, and Shari Stenberg’s work on feminism in Composition Studies. A significant part of empowering learners, for me, means being transparent regarding my learning goals for planned projects, course readings, and class discussion. Talking about learning goals in class as well as the reason we read and discuss particular subjects keeps students “in the loop” regarding their learning, and can help to lay the groundwork for them to become critical students as well as critical consumers. Another strategy for empowerment is trusting students to rise and meet a challenge. I love to give undergraduates small pieces of difficult theory and spend the time with them to work through those theories in class. For example, I have taught Michel Foucault’s theory of power from The History of Sexuality to my ENG 101 students. Working through this theory in class was difficult, and I devoted a full week and a half to explaining, exploring, and discussing this theory. Once students understood Foucault’s theorization of power, they were able to apply it effectively as a lens to texts written by authors from marginalized groups in order to understand how power worked for their chosen author. Students of all levels are smart and capable, and I find that they create meaningful work and ask perceptive questions of their research when given the opportunity and support to grapple with complex ideas.
Cultivating Critical Consumers
In my classroom I give weight to social issues as subject matter through course readings, in-class discussion, and research-based writing projects. Emphasizing social issues encourages students to be better informed about things like race, class, and gender and to give them practice thinking about things that will continue to influence them throughout their lives. Since social media saturates much of everyday life, I believe it is necessary for students to think critically about use of social media as well as the information presented to them on social media, especially in the current news media and political climate. This focus has been guided by feminist pedagogical strategies as described by Kristine Blair, Cynthia Selfe, and Ann Manicom among others. Other influences on how to teach this in a technologically mediated society are digital literacies and digital pedagogies scholarship, specifically work on multiliteracies by Stuart Selber, the edited collection on the multifaceted nature of digital literacies by Colin Lankshear and Michelle Knobel, work on thoughtful integration of social media into the classroom by Alice Daer and Liza Potts, and work on participatory culture and media education by Henry Jenkins.
Applying theories related to digital literacy emphasizes the importance of research and understanding multiple perspectives in the projects my students complete. In my ENG 102 courses, students compose a research project that encompasses two thirds of the semester and two of their three writing projects. The second and third projects are complemented by a rhetorical analysis of a news source. Next in writing project two, students complete an annotated bibliography researching a social issue of their choice. This assignment pairs particularly well with digital literacy goals since students spend time not only finding research, but also vetting the authors and analyzing the kinds of evidence each author uses in their work. After thoroughly vetting their sources in writing project two, students go on to write an essay that gives a nuanced perspective of their social issue. In this project, students use the sources from the annotated bibliography and employ both the digital literacy concepts the rhetorical strategies they have learned and critiqued throughout the semester. Discussing concepts of media and digital literacies prompts students to ask questions about information presented to them in a variety of modes (from Facebook to news to academic articles) instead of allowing it to become an unquestioned part of their day-to-day living.
As a teacher, I strive to cultivate skills—grounded in the eight habits of mind identified by the Council of Writing Program Administration: curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition—in my students so they may reach their full potential. I incorporate a dynamic set of teaching practices in my classroom that allows me the flexibility to respond to any given learning situation. This is partially done through the feminist pedagogical tenets I described, but also through my tough-love approach to mentoring. Making meaningful connections with my students is, for me, an essential part of teaching, and those connections open the door for candid communication that allows me to better advise them on their particular learning pathways. For example, in my graduate-level Multimodal Curriculum Development class, we read On Multimodality by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes as a primary course text. Students in that class went on to apply that theory in class discussions and also create multimodal assignments they could take into their classrooms. Yet, while forging these bonds with my students and remaining flexible in regards to learning styles and student goals, I also maintain high standards for student work. The combination of personal connection and high standards forms the basis of my tough-love approach to mentoring students, empowering them, and encouraging them to be critical consumers within their educations and society writ large.