I entered the graduate study with what I thought was a clearly defined teaching philosophy. Years of tutoring students in economics, and teaching, mentoring, and counseling in the roles of camp counselor, resident assistant, and ESL teacher had left me with an understanding of what I valued in the classroom. I still draw on these experiences, and the many readings from my pedagogy workshop and my rhetoric and composition classes, but I’ve found that teaching college composition was a completely eye-opening experience. Being able to grow as a teacher while watching my students grow as more sophisticated rhetors and composers has been an immense privilege, but not one without its challenges.
As an instructor in the composition program, I have three goals for my students: (1) that they realize the many and varied ways in which they are already composers, (2) that they grow as more sophisticated composers working within a range of genres and modes, and (3) that they see the ways in which their rhetorical strategies can transfer to the work they do in their own fields. Most of my students are in their first or second year of college, and typically come from disciplines outside of the English department. For some, my class is their first exposure to college level writing; and for many, my class is the only one where their instructor and fellow students know their names. When I ask on the first day, “Who here identifies as a writer?” generally few or no hands are raised. I try to dispel the myth that writing is a skill bestowed only to the lucky few early in the semester. To achieve my three goals for the course, I turn to the work of three scholars: (1) Parker Palmer’s conception of integrative learning; (2) Gilles Deleuze’s writing on rhizome-thought, and (3) Kathleen Yancey’s work on transfer.
Integrative Learning and Contemplative Pedagogy
One guiding principle in my pedagogy is the idea of establishing a “culture of caring” in my classroom. For learning and dialogue to happen, I believe that students must first feel as though they are a valued member of our class community. This semester, I began establishing that culture by learning every one of my student’s names by the second class and consistently arriving ten minutes prior to the start of class so I could converse with my students. When reading The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer, I was introduced to the idea of integrative learning, where the university is “a multidimensional enterprise, one that draws on the full range of human capacities for knowing, teaching, and learning; that bridges the gaps between the disciplines; that forges stronger links between knowing the world and living creatively in it, in solitude and community.” Palmer’s integrative learning is fostered in my class through frequent collaboration, opportunities for interdisciplinary study, and the use of contemplative writing practice.
Drawing on Mary Rose O’Reilley’s work on teaching as contemplative practice, I design my class structure to include reflection and daily non-graded free-writing. O’Reilley asks us to consider, “What if we were to take seriously the possibility that our students have a rich and authoritative inner life and tried to nourish it rather than negate it?” The goals of contemplative writing include a greater awareness of the body in composing (Wenger), self-acceptance (Deluca), civic engagement (Kirsch), and focus in the distractions of our hyper-mediated world (O’Donnell; Pang). The overarching theme of these goals is to foster a sense of wholeness; where renewal occurs through fostering the inner lives of students (Kirsch; Palmer). In my own classes, my students and I spend time discussing specific theorists, student work, and research practices, but we also delve into the writing process, from the role of embodiment on writing to specific strategies for invention and revision.
Collaborative Learning and Rhizome-Thought
I believe that my students and I are co-collaborators, that we can work together to come to a place a new meaning. For me, this is based in Deleuze’s rhizome-thought model of pedagogy. Rather than arborescent-thought that traces a clear path upwards, rhizome-thought is collaboration between the teacher and the student. Teaching becomes more complex than simply passing down one “correct” way of thinking. Deleuze argues, “We learn nothing from those who say ‘Do as I do.’ Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘Do with me’ and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce.” This perspective encourages the agency of my students—as a teacher, I enact this by being honest with my class, by challenging them to difficult conversations, and by not being afraid to say that I don’t know everything, but that we can work through difficult concepts together. I find this “do with me” approach most applicable to technology use in the classroom. By working within a digital humanities focus in my research and teaching, I hope to enable my students to enact rhetorical theory through the construction of multimodal digital arguments.
Situated Learning and Teaching for Transfer
While at Florida State University, I’ve had the opportunity to attend guest lectures on various “Teaching for Transfer” models. Transfer is critical for us as composition instructors; however, I’ve found that helping my students understand how their writing skills and practices might be used in other contexts can be difficult. My class is built on this transfer approach; for example, students return to key term mapping exercises multiple times throughout the semester to formulate their own “Theory of Writing.” Ultimately, I strive for a classroom with a strong community, a place of collaboration that stresses the relevance of writing to students’ lives and challenges students to think critically and compose creatively across a range of media. Each of these pedagogies and practices also influenced my work as a consultant in the FSU Digital Studio.