Reflective and ever-evolving, my approach to teaching is attuned to the varying needs, backgrounds, and learning styles of my students. What grounds this flexibility, though, is a focus on helping students to uncover, develop, and hone the rhetorical skills they already use and inviting them to integrate their expertise with that of their peers in cooperative learning practices. To achieve these goals, my pedagogy is guided by the following practices:
Cultivating Rhetorical Approaches to Composing Multimodal Texts
Students need to be responsible for what they write and to engage with their peers, their discourse communities, and their local communities beyond the microcosm of the classroom. With this in mind, I ask students to begin each assignment considering their intended audience as well as those who may also encounter and evaluate their work (e.g. co-workers, managers, the media, local community members, and others) with the goal of critically thinking about the contexts of the particular rhetorical situation they are responding to. Time is also spent in both my composition and professional writing classes discussing how the rhetorical awareness of audiences and genres are not limited to written discourse alone, but that multimodal genres of communication (e.g. text messages, Facebook posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.) have their own advantages and constraints. Students are encouraged to integrate their previous experience with technologies with an attention to the rhetorical principles of document design and to put this knowledge to practice by creating visually engaging and accessible documents like digital portfolios, technical reports, proposals, and advertisements through Wix, Weebly, Adobe InDesign, and Photoshop.
Establishing a Cooperative Learning Environment
Students come to the classroom with a range of experience and expertise, which instructors can use as resources to support students in shaping their critical thinking and innovation through being receptive to various perspectives. In my healthcare writing class, for example, I supplement instruction on how to write detailed patient charting notes and referral letters with discussions about Keith Wailoo’s How Cancer Crossed the Color Line. By considering how beliefs about gender, race, and class have impacted the history of cancer awareness and treatment within the United States, my students and I were able to consider the assumptions behind “objective” scientific language that often go unchallenged in standard medical writing practices. We discuss ethical and empathetic ways of documenting patient care while integrating students’ personal connections to and/or research interests in cancer with a focus on larger systemic issues like access to healthcare. By encouraging students to lend their knowledge to the work that we do in our class, I ask my students to consider how to do the same for the various stakeholders of their fields.
Modeling Reflective Writing
Through reflection and discussion, students can become highly attuned to the stronger and weaker areas of their own work as well as others’. For this reason, I often devote time in class to peer review and emphasize the techniques I developed during my own experience as a peer tutor (e.g. reading the paper out loud, asking about areas of concern, and developing questions to understand the writer’s thought process). In addition to holding peer review sessions, I also ask students in all of my classes to consider their composing process for each project via a reflective essay. In these essays, students articulate the reasoning behind their rhetorical decisions, reflect on how they incorporated feedback from their peers and myself into their writing, and comment on what in-class discussions, activities, and course readings guided their learning and writing process. As students progress through the course, their reflective writing becomes more detailed as they become more attuned to their writing development as they adjust and build upon writing strategies from previous assignments—both in my class and in others.