close-up image of Charleston Telephone Switchboard, multiple colors and ports and cords

philosophy.

 

I value a writing pedagogy that is meaningful for students, that challenges them intellectually while accommodating their learning needs and interests. Whether I am teaching composition, civic writing, or professional writing, I try to enact this in three ways: by situating writing within meaningful contexts, encouraging students to be ethical producers of texts, and creating an accessible pedagogical space.

context // creating meaningful contexts


Writing lacks meaning if it lacks context. I value a writing pedagogy that gets students writing in real-world contexts in order to develop critical rhetorical awareness and that encourages students to draw on their own experiences as resources for composing and circulating texts. For example, when students create multimodal projects in my composition classrooms, I ask them to choose topics that matter to them and to compose in genres that allow them to construct well-balanced, researched arguments for a specific audience. In professional writing, when I ask students to write résumés and application letters, they also write an audience analysis analyzing the values and expectations of an organization in order to compare those values to their own. I encourage them to choose an internship or graduate program that truly interests them and to actually submit those job materials. Another way I try to contextualize writing is by using familiar genres. I often use Twitter as a tool to summarize, to analyze, to reflect, and to engage students with non-traditional modes of participation. Because many students are familiar with Twitter or similar social media, it can be a comfortable space for students to ask questions, engage with their peers, and approach new ideas while reinforcing different elements of academic writing. In a WRT 205 course, I created an activity where we used Twitter to practice critical summary. I listened to students complain about the spatial constraints and brainstorm how to make their summaries interesting for their Twitter followers, and I watched students collaboratively write and re-write their summaries. As a class, we discussed the difficulties of writing condensed summaries and the qualities of what comprises good critical writing. I love assignments like this that challenge students intellectually in a way that is frustrating but productive, that allow them to share their writing with peers in the class and beyond, and that grant them opportunities to play with familiar genres in new ways.

ethics // considering cultural and digital rhetorical concerns


I value a writing pedagogy that encourages students to be ethical producers of texts. For me, this has multiple dimensions: I want students to be able to responsibly source information, to define and redefine their own ethos as they encounter new information and address new audiences, and to think carefully about how they represent the voices of others. I am strongly influenced by feminist researchers like Gesa Kirsch and Jacqueline Jones Royster who articulate the need to thoughtfully include the voices of those we study, to pay attention to how we position ourselves in our writing, and to be responsible about how we engage with values and worldviews that differ from our own. For the final project in my civic writing class, students created an advocacy portfolio that was intended to address a question that had circulated all semester: How can we ethically and productively engage a civic issue? I asked students to choose local (sometimes personal) topics so they could consider how to position themselves as knowledgeable and capable rhetors while also considering how to represent others affected by the issue. This assignment, like many of my assignments, emphasized ethos and attention to students’ embodied roles in the research and production of their texts.

Echoing Heidi McKee and James Porter, it is also important to consider the ethical, rhetorical dimensions of digital research and design. In professional writing classes, for example, I encourage students to consider how technical and professional writing, design, and information architecture welcome and exclude particular audiences. And I value digital and multimodal assignments in all my classes, which prompt new considerations for students: using and interpreting public/private information, selecting creative commons media for their projects, and creating accessible digital texts. Particularly in the disability-themed composition courses I have taught, I emphasize the accessibility of digital texts and the real, diverse audiences who could benefit (or who could be excluded) from their texts.  

accessibility // creating accessible environments and content


I value a writing pedagogy that is inclusive—that expands our notions of writing and our ideas about the “standard” student body. Inspired by multimodal scholars like Jody Shipka and disability rhetoricians like Jay Dolmage, Melanie Yergeau, and Margaret Price, I try to create learning spaces that are inclusive of students’ varying abilities, literacies, and composing practices. I try to address the needs of a wide range of students through assignments and in-class activities that value different ways of learning and participating. For example, a small thing I incorporate in my classes is collaborative note taking. Note taking is a basic accommodation in writing classes, and collaborative note taking addresses that need while also making it a shared responsibility. It asks students to be responsible to each other by contributing to a shared resource (our course website), and I encourage students to take notes however they prefer—as a narrative, bulleted points, brief sketches.

Accessible practices benefit all students, and I foreground accessibility from the start of each semester with an accessibility statement in my syllabus: “This is a course designed to welcome different learning and composing styles as well as create an inclusive space. If we can do something to make the classroom more accessible, please let me know immediately.” I try to instill an ethic of accessibility by using multimodal practices and assignments that have specific learning goals but are flexible to students’ needs and projects. For example, at the end of a research-heavy composition course, I assigned a multimodal project in place of an essay, and students’ projects ranged from prosthetic arms made of cardboard to educational videos posted to YouTube.

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I try to meet students’ needs by valuing a writing pedagogy that creates meaningful contexts for student writing, that encourages students to think critically about the cultural and digital concerns involved with producing texts, and that creates an inclusive space that allows students to foster rhetorical awareness.