Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

When I was 9 years old, my mother pulled my siblings and me out of school. Our farm became my classroom, but from my bedroom closet, I called my best friend to discuss our math textbook. I needed those phone calls. Not for competition, but for community. That need led to our homemade theater group, The Barn House Players. Weekly, we gathered on a corkboard-topped hay bale stage. Under the dusty barn light, we wrote scripts and built props from rusty cups and costume jewelry. Our patchwork community sustained my imagination, but I craved even more community. A visit to our homeschool evaluator, Mrs. McMillan, punctuated each year. The highlight for me—when Mrs. McMillan’s daughter and I exchanged reading lists. Perhaps now, the diversity of classroom cultures excites me because I so needed these conversations with other learners. As a teacher, I hope my students experience the freedom I enjoyed and the conversations I craved. In my classrooms, I find balance between self-sponsorship and intellectual community by foregrounding student voices, community-engaged and collaborative pedagogies, experimentation and situated-learning, translingual pedagogies and writing to communicate approaches, and an ecological model of writing assessment. 

Foregrounding Student Voices
My first day teaching (eight years ago) bewildered me. How would I, the homeschooled farmer, create the community I admired? Over time, I’ve found that community develops when I foreground student voices, asking my students to shape the syllabi and class culture. I apply decentered classroom practices (Shor, 1992) to direct student voices to take center stage. On day one, I ask students to critically examine institutional power. Students discuss questions like, “What is good writing?” “What is the role of feedback in a writing class?” and “What are the best and worst classes like?” Then, students co-create the syllabus: they add readings and activities, and they negotiate the learning environment down to the late work policy. I’ve responded to students by increasing in-class writing workshop time and adopting their friend/family feedback extra credit option, which rewards students who seek feedback from non-class members (in addition to in-class peer review). Foregrounding student voices means that each class reflects the diversity of students within it. 

Community-Engaged and Collaborative Pedagogies
Before pursuing my doctorate, I worked for small nonprofits, which cemented my interest in community-engaged pedagogies. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve looked to community-engaged pedagogies to partner students and retired adults to write life review stories; to join students and campus organizations to compose websites and brochures; and, most recently, to enlist a computer scientist to share workplace writing practices. Further, collaborative learning theorists like Bruffee (1993) incline me toward small groups; for instance, my Composition II students join “research teams” to support their writing processes. “Flexibility in Use,” a universal design principle, further guides me toward flexible group work. Groups use communal Google Documents to reduce overstimulation and facilitate reflection. Also, I offer students multiple participation entry points, from interactive learning technologies like Mentimeter and Kahoot! to verbal techniques like listening-pairs, in which students listen attentively to their partner before speaking. 

Experimentation and Situated-Learning
Experimentation and situated-learning are pillars of my classes. I draw on Lerner’s (2009) “writing laboratory” and Lave and Wenger’s (1991) “communities of practice,” which highlight participatory and situated-learning. My Basic Writing students bring outside writing to our “writing studios” for feedback, which allows them to connect our classroom learning to their non-classroom writing. Also, simulation-based learning lets my students act as marketing professionals to create digital memes. In my Business and Professional Writing classes, students work in teams to conduct social media audits for local businesses and write recommendation reports to share their team’s findings. Similarly, my Composition I students post public comments to the New York Times website in order to experience “authentic” sites for learning. I teach discursive practices so students can emulate skillful writers, and I emphasize students’ writerly identity formation. During Writing Marathons, students explore campus to experience how setting shapes writerly behaviors. This type of situated learning defines writers as those who write, and it challenges entrenched writing habits that may limit student growth.

Translingual Pedagogies and Writing to Communicate
I seek to prepare students to communicate across social, regional, economic, and language borders. Translingual pedagogies emphasize that students’ localizations and repertoires are assets for translanguaging, or communicating across borders. I combine translingual pedagogies with writing to communicate pedagogies from WAC/WID that emphasize addressing an audience beyond the self. For instance, my Basic Writing students email students from Lebanon to discuss global communication practices. My Composition I and II students and I teach each other words from our linguistic contexts, to explore and appreciate our varied heritages. I share my Appalachian heritage and tell the story of my father, who shuttled between our regional dialect for his sales and marketing work. Effective communication requires embracing our home literacies and adding to our linguistic arsenals.

An Ecological Model of Writing Assessment
Writing is a messy process involving discovery, curiosity, experimentation, and creativity. Mistakes are part of the process! However, students become cautious when they fear grades, which they may see as an assessment of their person. Therefore, I use Wardle and Roozen’s (2012) “ecological” model of writing assessment; I use grading contracts, portfolios, and holistic rubrics as often as institutionally possible. These techniques encourage student risk-taking, allow me to give students authentic feedback, and make space for student self-assessment and feedback from peers. Ecological writing assessment supports the student-directed and community-engaged learning that I so value as a teacher. 

In sum, these approaches help me to balance the tension between self-sponsored learning and collaboration. My students and I begin each semester anew, co-constructing our writing community, striving toward that space between un-schooled freedom and intellectual community.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s