I came of age in rhetoric and composition as it grew into a field focused on interdisciplinarity and multiple cultural approaches. And so, I’ve come to value questioning “easy” categories, whether those categories are ones of discipline, of “good” writing, or of “legitimate” approaches to textual construction. This questioning, I think, helps me keep my balance in a rapidly shifting field and an increasingly diverse student population.
In response to these changes—the technological, the material, the people—I focus my teaching on the multiple border spaces of identity and writing; I draw my inspirations from a variety of disciplines as well as texts that range from traditional essays to graphic novels, from in-person peer groups to collaborative blogs, from project-based learning to intense one-on-one work on conference abstracts with graduate students. In my teaching, then, I try to encourage the direct questioning of text, power, and identity that is at the heart of contemporary composition and rhetoric. While there are a variety of ways this philosophy plays itself out, there are some common threads:
Networking (technology and people): I am committed to the idea of active construction of texts, and networked technologies (and sufficient network access) allows students to contribute their own readings, blogs, wikis, non-academic writing, new and/or controversial issues, and commentary on current events to our class discussions, so that the ongoing conversation of the class is always new, always relevant, and always “owned” by the class participants (teacher and student). Even without internet technology, this process can be put into place; for example, I’ve had students in traditional classrooms research (and then provide for me to photocopy) “framework” essays for different topics that provide context and invite discussion. These framework essays allow us to balance structure and exploration, to cross-reference the historical moment with its immediate effects and the many potential responses that can be made.
Flexibility: Rhetoric and composition is a constantly shifting and growing field; every day brings new developments in technology, educational policy (local, statewide, federal), popular culture, and disciplinary politics. At the same time, these new developments do not occur in a historical or theoretical vacuum; they are situated in a variety of prior “conversations.” Not only do these developments happen in different contexts, they will be read in different contexts, depending on my students’ geographic location, age, background, academic major, and so on. Ideally, writing classrooms (undergraduate and graduate) can maximize student interest in and exploration of issues of textuality and identity, not only by focusing on “current issues,” but by identifying, questioning, and writing through and/or against theoretical and historical frameworks that inform the current moment.
Respect (for students, for the teacher, for academic inquiry): Since writing courses (undergraduate and graduate) serve multiple and conflicting purposes, and the participants in those courses are almost always caught in the middle of those intersections/interruptions of purpose, it’s important that we assume goodwill and respect on the part of our interlocutors. I believe that conflict is unavoidable in the context of passionate engagement with a topic, and students (and teachers) need to be able to question boundaries and re-position themselves in order to fully engage the material. At the same time, the classroom needs to be a safe-enough space for all of us, and I find that a commonly held belief in our common endeavor—no matter how tenuous that commonality is, and no matter how temporary—has almost always provided a productive, critically focused, and safe classroom.
ENG 104 (spring 2011): First-Year Composition
ENG 609 (spring 2008): Perspectives on Research
ENG 612 (winter 2007): Contemporary Composition Theory
ENG 658 (winter 2011): Computers & Composition