Teaching Philosophy

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

A foundational tenet of my teaching philosophy is helping students develop skills in listening and communication with the goal of fostering a sense of community or fellowship in the classroom that facilitates collaborative learning, those informative exchanges between peers that also lend a sense of community to the classroom. I agree with Erika Lindeman and Daniel Anderson that “The teacher’s role is to build a community of writers who encourage one another to use writing to make meaning and effect change” (260-261).[1] What the collaborative model offers to my classroom is a way to teach students mutual respect and trust, to listen to each other, and to appreciate their individual differences and abilities. As an instructor, I imagine myself as an advocate for my students, a role that parallels my work as a patient advocate in nursing. Over the past twelve years, I have directly experienced the benefits of collaboration in team-nursing and its correlation with better patient outcomes.[2] Moreover, I understand that the skills involved in group activities, such as leadership, flexibility, teamwork, and problem solving translate from the classroom to the workplace.

Though students are initially tepid in their interactions with each other, with time and encouragement and through sharing in groups, they overcome insecurities about speaking in public or sharing writing endeavors with peers. By frequently re-organizing the groups, students quickly learn one another’s names and become more comfortable in the classroom. For example, in EN110: Intro to Writing, a course taught completely online, I had students collaborate in groups on a Synthesis Description Assignment where they co-wrote a 300-word description of a U. S. National Park or Monument on a web page designed for our class in Wix. The web page simulated a wiki board in that it allowed multiple students to engage in this digital activity at the same time. Furthermore, the assignment required them to synthesize other writers’ perspectives on the park or monument with their own. I also assigned students to “rooms” in Google Chat according to their groups so that they could coordinate and plan their project. In a similar assignment in my EN101: Composition I course, I had students practice rhetorical analysis of images. To re-enforce what they learned in the classroom, I had the students collaborate to create a collage of images on a wiki board and participate together to rhetorically analyze the images. From this exercise, my EN101 students graduated to analysis of Brent Staples’s “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space,” and finally to more challenging essays, such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Whether in an online format or in the classroom, I encourage students to collaborate in co-writing the initial rhetorical analysis of the images. This sense of communal support helps students become more independent in their analysis of texts and more comfortable with writing and sharing their writing. But more important, still, they become more comfortable with listening to each other and “listening” to texts.

Critical to acquiring competence in communication is listening. Through collaborative close reading activities, students learn to “listen” to texts. They first read and annotate at home, then in groups in the classroom, they review with each other their close readings, and then share their insights with the class. During this process of discussing and reflecting on the readings, the students take turns listening to one another and speaking, thereby transferring the work of “listening” to texts to the work of listening to each other. As the students learn to trust each other through these group discussions, they build the foundation of community that they need to be successful in group work. For example, in the EN102: Composition II, one of the major assignments involves students collaborating on research and a group presentation. After being assigned to groups based on similar degree majors, students elect a group leader and pursue a research question together. By working within a group, the students benefit by the combination of their abilities as they work through the process of invention, research, and composition. In the last part of this assignment, each student selects a narrowed topic inspired by their group’s research, and then independently writes an argumentative essay. Students tell me that composing this essay makes them realize how much the group research and discussions prepare them for writing about their topic. Thus, interdependent research activities provide a segue that facilitates confidence in independent writing.

Students are not the only ones who have to practice listening. As an advocate of the writing community, I must listen to their fears about their own inadequacies and the failures of their peers. Students must rise to challenges in group work such as how to navigate schedule conflicts with peers, how to overcome geographical distance, and how to address interpersonal conflicts. These issues challenge me to remain flexible with students as I make suggestions for ways to overcome obstacles to positive interactions. For example, I teach students to overcome distance by using digital documents such as Google docs and online presentation programs to collaborate on projects. I have addressed challenges of group work in multiple ways—by grading students based on the individual merit of their work, by providing them with confidential peer evaluations, and by providing suggestions for resolving conflicts on a case-by-case basis. Though group work requires me to be more available to my students, I find its intrinsic benefits worth the effort. For example, one of my advanced students in EN102 reported that this assignment challenged him more than any other activity in the course because he has so few opportunities for learning to work with others. And, this is not only needed in college courses; one of my LSMSA EN110 students similarly expressed appreciation for the Synthesis Description Assignment because it provided an innovative opportunity for him to connect with other students. These responses echo those less eloquently expressed by other students in my classes, such as one who stated that the group work made her revise her habits of procrastination. She expressed that in learning from her failures, she was able to recover and meet the expectations of her peers.

Not only do the group work assignments emphasize the power of peer collaboration, but they also demonstrate the vital role that community plays in learning. When the students learn to view each other as a community, they are better equipped to understand that academic writing is about joining in a written conversation. In this, I agree with Kenneth Bruffee when he argues that “in understanding writing as a collaborative, conversational process, we understand that” rather than seeking to “distinguish ourselves” by writing, we are actually “trying to do the opposite” (55).[3] By listening to each other, and closely reading texts, students begin to see academic writing as a conversation that interests them, and one in which they could also participate. By engaging with texts in a range of genres, students develop an understanding of argument as a basic feature of written expression. Their experiences with analyzing a wide range of authors and styles provides them with examples on which to test their own abilities at forming informed and coherent arguments. By designing assignments with overlapping skill development, I encourage students to circle back and re-think their arguments and even return to research important concepts in greater detail. Further, by modeling interdisciplinary collaboration, I demonstrate to students how different communities within academia interrelate and are interdependent.

Students participate in invention, composition, and revision exercises with their peers within the classroom; this opportunity to try their hand at complex writing tasks with the support of their writing community means that students are not left to struggle through the most difficult parts of writing alone. Through peer reviews, the students engage in the revision process and learn through experience the intimate connection between reflection and writing. Because they share their writing process with each other, students are more willing to take risks in their writing. Taking risks in writing is vital to improvement because the process of writing is a process in self-development. We learn through our failures and our successes.

[1] Lindemann, Erika and Daniel Anderson. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th edition. Oxford UP, 2001.

[2] Bogaert, Peter Van, Olaf Timmermans, Susan Mace Weeks, et al. “Nursing Unit Teams Matter: Impact of UnitLevel Nurse Practice Environment, Nurse Work Characteristics, and Burnout on Nurse Reported Job Outcomes, and Quality of Care, and Patient Adverse Events—a Cross-sectional Survey.” International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol. 51, 2014, pp. 1123-1134.

[3] Bruffee, Kenneth. Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. 2nd edition. John Hopkins UP, 1999.