“Everyone “writes” in a way; that is, each person has a “story”—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart, and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at twenty is seen as comedy or nostalgia at forty. All children “write.” (And paint, and sing.) I suppose the real question is why do so many people give it up. Intimidation, I suppose. Fear of not being good. Lack of time.” — Margaret Atwood, in a 1990 interview with the Paris Review
This quote from Margaret Atwood sums up my personal belief about writing and informs my approach to teaching. Every individual is already involved in composing a narrative of sorts. I want to help my students to continue this pursuit. To that end I intentionally work to remove all obstacles from their paths and help them to see their compositions as valuable and worth the effort.
Behind everything I do when in the classroom is the fundamental belief that all students are valuable and worth my time. I believe that empathy and respect are the two most valuable outlooks, and I plan to model this for my students and will expect them to behave similarly within my classroom. I want to teach students that they can disagree with each other and me as long as it is done from a position of respect.
When I teach composition and literature classes I want to enable my students to think critically about the topics at hand and form their own opinions about various texts. At the end of the day, the most important thing in my mind is whether or not the students leave me class with the ability to apply critical reasoning in the world they live. As Atwood points out, all my students are writers; I want to help them continue to develop these skills. To that end, in my composition classes I will request that students write about things that have personal interest to them. We will evaluate commercials, popular movies, and music. I will ask them to turn to their immediate surroundings to find a figure to profile. Because I want to show them that these skills that I am teaching them can be applied in their everyday lives and are not limited to the classroom, I will have them develop a blog where they can post their work. I want my students to leave my class with the ability to write confidently about their lives and surroundings.
In my upper level literature classes, I will tie in the required readings as much as I can to the interests in my class, in order to maximize student interest and retention. My classes will pay particular attention to the development of literary characters and the ways that they interact with their peers and environment. What biases and suppositions are present in these works? Where do these biases come from? To answer these questions we will look closely at the texts themselves, but, since nothing is born in a vacuum, we will also examine the historical moment in which the text was created. These are questions that we will discuss in class and develop arguments about in responses and formal papers. Class discussion will often be student led, and I will make changes to the syllabus if they suggest texts that are appropriate for class discussion. I will also assign broad paper topics, in order to allow them to take the assignment in directions that they find exciting; I want them to develop a passion for analysis of literary works and I believe that this approach will cultivate this passion. I will also be willing to provide ideas for directions to take the papers as well, since I know that not all students will be as capable of finding a topic and focus without some assistance. This is not failure, but an acknowledgement of reality. Everyone will come in at a different point, and they will all have different goals for this class. I want to push them to find their own ideas and topics, but I am more than willing to provide as much assistance as needed.
My lower level literature classes will be a little more structured, as these students are still learning exactly what is expected from them, but I want to push them towards self-directed learning. I will offer suggestions for paper topics on the assignment sheet, but I will also stress that they are allowed to come up with their own ideas as well. Since everyone will be fine tuning the specific focus of their topics anyway, I will have conferences with each of them to discuss the topic they are planning to pursue. In this way I will be able to make sure they are all on the right track and be able to offer assistance to any students who might be struggling.
I will use peer review and conferences to keep my students on track and try to keep them engaged throughout the process of writing and revising, and I hope to be able to help them see that papers are crafted; they don’t emerge from the brain fully formed as soon as they hit the screen. This will be reinforced by regular check-ins and the ability to revise papers for a revised grade.
I also want to make my classes as multi-modal as possible. In all my classes I would like to include either twitter or tumblr (or both!) as forms of assessment and ways for the students to engage. It is important to me that students are given the opportunity to use the digital technologies available to improve their digital literacies as well as the more “standard academic” literacies that are expected in composition classes. In my composition classrooms I will include music, movies, and television shows in the list of texts we will examine. In my literature classes, I will discuss adaptation of texts in a variety of manners. In this way I hope to stress to my students that writing can take a variety of shapes.