Teaching & Learning Philosophy
Over two decades teaching college-level classes in rhetoric and composition/writing studies, I have continued to think of teaching as a series of lively, intensive engagements with students in activities of inquiry, conversation, and writing. Within the conceptual and curricular frameworks of many different courses, I consistently value the learning that manifests in the orchestration of these three activities, straightforward and commonplace as they are sure to seem. As students encounter successes and challenges in a course, conversation and writing define their paths of inquiry so that they might be re-traced and understood by others. Inquiry, conversation, and writing are three activities that reliably give shape to my teaching across a range of courses, areas of study, and modes of delivery.
As I think of it, inquiry describes our movements along the multiple, potential pathways laid out in the preliminary stages of a class. An inquisitive stance encourages us to seek insight with a high degree of engagement, pursuing lines of thought and action that combine what we already know with emerging curiosity and wonder. Rather than setting out with a limited destination in mind, inquiry tends to be open and responsive to contingencies met along the way. In this sense, inquiry is a productive method (a way of working) guided by processes of finding, conceptualizing, and meaning making, while drawing together a diverse mix of perspectives and materials. As a key consideration in my approach to teaching, inquiry is underscored in the framing of assignments and projects, in learner-centered activities and in various forms of collaboration that position students as participants in the shaping of knowledge.
An example of this can be seen in the series of elements WRTG540: Visual Rhetoric and Information Design students created and assembled in what we called a sténopé set, or portfolio of everyday course activities, reading notes, and generative questions. The sténopé set collected a series of attempts at doing visual rhetorics—that is, in generating effects using definition, juxtaposition, contrast, color, spatial arrangement, and typographic exploration. In this context, I was inquiring along with students, genuinely working with them through questions about how to do things with images and words in combination. The collection consisted of several smaller pieces, but its accumulation reinforced our collective ways inquiry into visual rhetorics was sustained throughout the semester.
Conversation is a second locus of activity recurring across my work as a teacher, grounding the courses I teach and the habits of interaction I value. Conversation values the dialogical construction of understanding, insight, and knowledge with students and among them; activities of listening, sharing, and negotiating our emerging understandings are, therefore, foregrounded in the classes I teach. Furthermore, conversation is a meaningful activity that invests the learning environment with the voices of its participants, thereby opening the course to a more democratic forming of priorities, interests, and shared pursuits. To extend conversation beyond the classroom, I value conferencing with students, whether in face-to-face sessions, by e-mail, or by instant messaging, and I often reiterate not only the importance of such sessions for learning but also do so in an effort to sustain an open, flexible, and accessible role as the teacher of the class.
Students in a section of ENGL121: Composition II: Researching the Public Experience, for instance, frequently shared ideas in small teams as they assembled and revised media-rich timelines designed to complicate commonplaces about hometown publics. Conversation among and across small groups allowed students chances to invent and re-invent their projects. By talking and sharing, they received support and encouragement from me and from their peers. Project-focused conversation proved generative as it opened up their provisional thinking for the projects and provided opportunities for comparison, discovery, and reflection—abundant opportunities for recursive feedback of varying stakes. Conversations, both in and out of class, with peers and with me, reinforced the importance of horizontal learning and of the social, participatory phases of any project's development.
A third essential activity in my teaching is writing. I am trained as a compositionist, as one who takes seriously the combination of discourses and materials for various purposes, including tacit and focal learning (i.e., noesis), making and creating (i.e., poesis), and the compelling, persuasive, and performative uses of language (i.e., rhetoric). For all of the courses I teach, writing is intrinsic—a productive, symbolic action that is deeply entangled with learning. Depending on the class, writing projects range from informal, spontaneous responses and explorations, to highly interconnected writing in digital platforms, from lists of questions or annotations of readings to more formal, polished, and sustained pieces of academic research and argumentation.
Inquiry, conversation, and writing might at first seem like simple keywords for characterizing my teaching, but I find that they are profoundly basic–foundational even–to the teaching I do, whether face-to-face, online, or some combination of the two. Furthermore, rather than taking these simple ideas for granted, by keeping them in mind as I develop and teach courses with varied method and content orientations in rhetoric and composition/writing studies, I find that my work consistently reflects larger values I continue to embrace related to rhetorical education, practical experience with multiple discourses, and lasting habits of mind.