At its best, education is transformative. As a first generation college graduate, I know this to be true. Through education, I have gained access to social institutions that were once outside my scope of possibilities. Literacy has been the primary vehicle for gaining understanding and empowerment in my life, and I strive to empower students in a similar way. As an educator, I believe students will change the way they think and act through their experiences with the classroom.
As a scholar, I often find myself focusing on classroom practices. In my research I bring together the digital humanities, education theories, and my literature background to discuss methods of writing instruction. During my Master’s Program, I pursued research in composition studies with a focus on digital technologies and literacies as avenues for teaching effective academic writing to first year college students. My research has built on the work of The New London Group and James Paul Gee while drawing on the work of David Bartholomae, Peter Elbow, Patricia Bizzell, and Lev Vygotsky. Through my research, I have developed an approach that encourages students to analyze discourse conventions in a structured division of discourse categories revolving around video games. The goal of my courses is to help students become self sufficient communicators capable of entering into unfamiliar discourse situations with effectively and with confidence.
So far, I have taught in four different institutions, including three different universities. I have taught in a variety of capacities, including first year writing programs at three universities and a writing center. I have worked with a variety of curriculum and with students at all education levels. I spent a year teaching in Nanjing, China in a sophisticated and immersive language program that utilized the latest education theories and technologies. While most of my work takes place in an English de partment and is focused on writing, I don’t see myself as a writing instructor or as an English instructor. I see myself as a literacy instructor. Having taught first year writing courses, having worked with college students at all levels, and having taught English as a foreign language, I have come to believe that language instruction at every level is a complicated process of helping students with meaning creation.
While I teach in the classroom, I also teach at home. My son is preliterate, which means we are working to help him understand early literacy skills like how to hold a book, turn the page, and identify text. For my son to one day have his own reading experiences and take ownership of the reading process, he will need a whole range of basic skills that allow him to become literate. Likewise, most first year writers at a university are preacademic writers. This means they need to be exposed to academic ways of thinking and writing so that they may one day take control of their own academic lives. Reading, as a foundational skill, helps students gain an awareness of conventions, genres, and expectations. As students learn to read and write for the first time or as they learn to produce academic essays, they are finding ways to enter into existing conversations with rules and expectations that have existed long before. Helping students gain an awareness of this process so that when they are faced with new writing challenges, they will be prepared to navigate discourse boundaries on their own.
To help students as they move beyond my classroom, I teach rhetorical theory and use rhetorical analysis assignments while encouraging metacognition through reflective practices. I often have students reflect on their coursework and the effectiveness of assignments to help them develop an awareness of context. By gaining an awareness of rhetorical concepts and ways of thinking, students are more prepared to enter unfamiliar writing occasions. Students who are capable of analyzing a rhetorical moment will be able to more effectively navigate unfamiliar tasks, especially as they attempt to move beyond the traditional academic essay into forms of communication that are more likely to change.
To ensure students are ready and capable to engage in new, unfamiliar discursive practices, the classroom must invite participation and experimentation. For this reason, I spend a lot of time developing a sense of community. The processes of sharing work, commenting on drafts, and supporting peers are made more effective by helping students see themselves and each other as members of a community. I often allow students the opportunity to share their thoughts on subjects that may be of interest to them outside of class, anything from current events to club activities. Helping students see each other as relatable, resourceful, friendly members of their class instead of strangers who they work alongside helps build the trust necessary for risk taking.
As students attempt to engage in new ways of thinking and new writing strategies, I find it necessary to treat digital tools and digital forms of communication as equal to more traditional texts. I will use a piece of written poetry alongside a video of spoken poetry or an image of a speaker alongside a description to help students reflect on what it means to write in a modern context. As students learn how to produce traditional academic work for their academic lives, they must also learn to produce effective forms of communication that does not conform to the traditional academic essay. The metacognitive practices are essential to ensuring students are prepared to transfer their skills and meaningfully incorporate them into their lives.
We must recognize that our efforts as teachers can only be measured by the success of our students. Learning takes place in the minds and habits of students. Educators provide direction and opportunity, but we cannot do the learning for our students which means we must find ways to encourage student engagement. Ultimately, compassion and student centered practices are necessary to my teaching practice as I recognize that students come into the classroom with diverse backgrounds and training. I recognize that my practices must evolve with the student body and with my growing understanding of what is effecti ve and ineffective in my classroom. As I continue to grow, study, and practice, I will continue to advocate for students, because my role as teacher is to serve the student body.