"We are left with the question of what kind of pedagogy would be resonant with the postmodern world, seeking a performative mode that does not depend on reproduction of the authoritative/authorizing voice?" - Thomas Rickert, Acts of Enjoyment
The 2018-19 academic year marks my twelfth year teaching writing at the collegiate level. During that time, I have taught first-year writing courses, upper division technical and professional writing courses, senior level new media production, and graduate courses in composition and rhetorical theory. These diverse experiences have led me to a few important realizations about teaching writing and rhetoric. For a more complete picture of my teaching experience, please see the pages collected under the Courses menu above as well as my Teaching Portfolio.
WRITING CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM RHETORIC.
The most common denunciation of rhetoric is that it is nothing more than style without substance, but as a writing teacher, I know that efficacious writing exists only when good ideas meet sound rhetorical approaches. In my classroom, this means that every course I teach begins with a discussion of the rhetorical choices writing requires. In addition, I make rhetorical conceptions of audience and credibility a cornerstone of every course by asking students to discuss these traits in everything we read throughout the semester as well as in their own work. In addition, as part of my work as textbook editor for USF's Composition II textbook, Rhetoric Matters, I spearheaded the inclusion and focus on rhetorical concepts; I also wrote textbook articles on the rhetorical importance of ethos for USF's Composition I textbook, Negotiating Writing Spaces, the Composition II textbook that I edited, and for the online writing textbook Writing Commons. As the editor of Writing Commons' Academic Writing and Rhetoric sections, I know that by asking to students to consider rhetorical concepts, audience and credibility in particular, we remind students that their writing doesn't exist in a vacuum; it has a specific rhetorical purpose for a particular audience.
THE BEST PEDAGOGY EMERGES FROM EXPERIENCE WITH REAL STUDENTS IN REAL CLASSROOMS.
My approach to classroom practice, which I call postpedagogy following Thomas Rickert, Byron Hawk, and Gregory Ulmer, emphasizes the value of allowing room for surprise, interruption, and creativity. For this reason, I craft assignments that emphasize production and process. In general, my assignments offer fewer constraints, and I evaluate the sometimes odd projects that emerge using rubrics I create with the input of my students and postmortem reflections that allow students to articulate their reasoning and their creative process. For example, in my Advanced Composition class, I ask students to craft a definitional text. This text can take any form so long as it (1) defines one of the key terms from our course, (2) represents six hours of work, and (3) grapples with at least two pieces we've read during the course; I give no limits in terms of medium or genre. Then, once students begin to work on their projects, we create a rubric as a class. This collaboratively created rubric also serves as the foundation for questions on the postmortem reflection that students compose once they submit their texts. During the three semesters I've been assigning this definitional text project, students have submitted comic books, videos, interactive webtexts, flip books, and a whole host of thoughtful, inventive projects. Every semester, I'm surprised by the creative investment these projects evidence, a level of creativity that develops from my open approach to assignments, the kairos of our particular classroom environment, and the sort of serendipity that cannot be intentionally crafted.
WRITING FOR NEW GENRES REQUIRES AN EMPHASIS ON EXPERIMENTAL AND CREATIVE COMPOSITION.
The genres that characterize writing in the 21st century tend to privilege brevity, visual acuity, and creativity. In order to prepare students to compose in these spaces, I assign multimodal and web-based projects. In my Writing with Media course, students compose infographics, podcasts, and public service announcements. These multimodal genres require students to think about communication beyond printed essays and examine the ways that writers communicate beyond academic assignments.
EFFECTIVE TEACHERS RESPOND TO STUDENT NEEDS.
These three tenants of my teaching philosophy mean that my classes are interactive and student focused. It also means my students spend most of our class time discussing course readings and videos and revising their own work. This focus on revision as well as the time I spend on individual and small group conferences is one of the greatest strengths of my courses. Semester after semester, students tell me that these conferences are where they learn the most about themselves as writers. Equally as important as these conferences, though, is my commitment to using interesting, relevant, and thought provoking resources to encourage class discussion. I ask my students to engage with challenging theory because different voices meet the needs of students with different learning styles, backgrounds, and investments, and I ask my students to craft digitally born and multimodal projects because these projects better represent the emerging genres that characterize contemporary professional and academic writing situations.
EFFECTIVE WRITING INSTRUCTION NEEDS REFLECTION AND CREATES THE CONDITIONS FOR KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER/ADAPTATION.
Along with emphasizing creativity, experimentation, and responsiveness to student needs, my adherence to a postpedagogy includes a belief that reflection is a fundamental part of effective writing courses. Ongoing, consistent, and specific reflection supports metacognition as well as transferable and adaptable learning practices. For this reason, in my classroom, students create course portfolios that include both completed course assignments and ongoing reflective assignments. For example, in my Writing with Media course, students publish bi-weekly blog posts that make connections between the critical theory that we read together and their work on Twitter. These posts ask them to (1) apply the readings to actual practice and (2) to think about how the readings alter their own choices online.
WRITING REQUIRES NONHUMANS.
Writers need writing spaces and tools; material conditions open and foreclose particular possibilities at particular moments. These objects and environs are an important, sometimes invisible part of writing and teaching writing. Recognizing the importance of these elements means that I work, whenever, possible to call attention to the emplaced and dependent nature of composing and of classrooms.
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