Students are at the center of my teaching and I strive to provide an active and inclusive learning environment in face-to-face, blended, or online instructional modalities. I value the experiences students bring into the classroom and I encourage them to develop and strengthen their readings of literature through life-to-text and text-to-text connections in order to measure the purpose of story, language, and writing, to their own lives and the cultures they inhabit; this initial teaching strategy helps strengthen and build relationships between students, as they often find commonalities with each other and in turn, form community. As students reach levels of comfort with me and with each other, classroom conversations flow with a sense of ease and lessened anxiety.
In my “Introduction to Creative Writing” course I teach three genres: poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction; students craft and revise in each genre and their pieces, similar to my “Advanced Fiction” course, are showcased in a portfolio, but more importantly, a public reading near the end of the semester. While students engage with the practice of writing creatively, they read short critical essays about craft alongside selected genre texts. Through reading, annotation workouts, and textual analysis, students reach a pivotal moment of recognizing the importance of working closely with mentor texts as a way to view not only, for example, the use of figurative language, repetition and other craft tools, but to see the influence of culture embedded in each piece. I believe it is crucial to present my students with a diverse range of writers including writers of color and LGBTQ+ identified; a diversified reading list assists in establishing acceptance and recognition of my students and who they are, or are becoming, and also promotes a safe space for discussions about identity, race, sexuality, and other challenging topics.
In my “Literatures of the World” course, students read and examine written and visual texts only crafted outside of the United States, challenging their world view. Each student delivered a presentation (some multimodal, student’s choice) that aligned a text to the cultural and historical events that shaped the perspective of the author, and point of view of the characters in terms of colonialism or post-colonialism. Each presentation allowed the whole group to then discuss and reflect not only on the text, but their own place within a different global context. In truth, this is one of my favorite course to teach outside the field of creative writing because the students just open themselves up to discussion. As a final project, students write a creative nonfiction piece, or an origin story based on their personal or family histories, and I could not have been prouder of the work they produced.
To further illustrate what my classroom looks like, whole group discussions and activities are important teaching tools, but sometimes students need space to work together in small groups. During a Zoom meeting in my “Writing: Life Among Beasts” course, I placed my students in breakout rooms to discuss our latest reading of May Sarton’s The Fur Person in concert with John Berger’s essay, “Why Look at Animals?” Within each breakout room, students had access to a whiteboard and tools and collaborated in thinking about Berger’s critical, historical, and philosophical examination of his inquiry within Sarton’s text. My role in this instance was to move through each room, field questions and observe. The results were beyond my expectations as each group presented their findings. This collaborative technique allowed students to think, write and share together, and deliver the results to each other in an online modality. As educators, we must remember to provide our students with opportunities to think for themselves, and experience autonomy; we must show our acceptance, be willing to look beyond the classic cannon and transform our curriculum to meet who they are with respect, and a willingness to also learn from them.
I believe writing and the teaching of writing enters every class I teach whether a writing or literature course. The process of writing begins in the first week of every course I teach; I assign students a writing prompt with specific formatting instructions in order to see and experience their writing immediately. I provide extensive feedback for revision on these early essays, and then students resubmit. My feedback examines each sentence and paragraph for rhetorical movements, grammatical phrasing and punctuation; creativity and the writer’s voice; and I look for evidence of conviction. After they resubmit, I look at how their writing responds to my suggestions and I return the document for a final round of revision; this time my feedback addresses three main issues that need attention and I attempt to empower them with the act of writing as not only a mode of communication, but a performance. They then submit their final copy for grading. Although this first essay of the semester is demanding of my time and challenging for my students, it allows me to see my students’ writing ability and attention to detail (and directions); what they recognize and understand according to their prior rhetorical knowledge; and how they use and respond to my feedback. I make use of Google Docs as I can view their document history and see what or how they use each comment I post to their work. I also conference with students during the semester to field any concerns, questions, and to discuss their writing practice. My goal at the end of any course is to help my students become more confident and risk-taking with writing.
Risk-taking with writing is at the forefront of my teaching philosophy. English as a Second Language students are encouraged to bring their culture and first language into their writing and into the classroom. I encourage my students to participate through argument and debate about current issues and how they influence and overlap with our lives and our studies. We must allow the controversial topics of this age to enter the classroom to build trust with one another; understand that we may have differences between us, but recognize that together we can create a collective voice without the violence we are constantly bombarded with. My students are allowed to break from tradition, play with form, experiment and discover pathways to develop their thinking, and build the confidence they need to move forward in the world.
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