Teaching Philosophy

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

A foundational tenet of my teaching philosophy is to foster 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 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 decade. I have directly experienced the benefits of collaboration in team-nursing and its correlation with better patient outcomes.[2] Working well with others, whether to compose an essay, or to provide care for a patient, is a skill that transfers easily across disciplines because communication is at the center of any collaboration.

Though students are initially tepid in their interactions with each other, with time and encouragement, they overcome their insecurity about speaking in public by sharing in groups. By frequently re-organizing the groups, students quickly learn one another’s names and become more comfortable in the classroom. For example, in ENG 101: Composition I, I have students practice rhetorical analysis of images. To re-enforce what they have learned in the classroom, I have students collaborate to create a collage of images on a wiki board and participate together in rhetorically analyzing the images. From this exercise, they graduate to analysis of Brent Staples’s “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space,” and finally to more challenging essays, such as Gloria Anzaldua’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” I build community by encouraging students to collaborate in co-writing the initial rhetorical analysis of images. This sense of communal support helps students to 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 ENG Composition II, one of the major assignments involves students collaborating on a group research and presentation project. 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 repeatedly tell me that composing this essay make 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 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. His response echoes those less eloquently expressed by other students in my classes, such as a student 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 does the group work assignment emphasize the power of peer collaboration, but it also demonstrates 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 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 bringing students to the archives, I teach them about the relevancy of out-of-print materials. In collaboration with the archivist, I guide students through an assignment that invites students to consider the materiality of texts. In this assignment, the archivist demonstrates how to research the digital collections. Students are instructed to locate a story in the de Grummond Collection of Children’s Literature, a digital collection. After selecting a story, the students analyze a character or even an illustration, and they write a rhetorical analysis.  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 Unit-level 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] See Bruffee, Kenneth. Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. 2nd edition. John Hopkins UP, 1999.