Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy and my course plan seem to be in a constant state of flux. I used to worry about all this change but recently Prof Hacker wrote that constant innovation is actually a sign of great teaching so I will stop worrying about that anyway.

I see myself primarily as a teacher of writing and so focus is on composition pedagogy. Of course there are many composition pedagogies and I find mine influenced by five schools of thought (at least) in my current incarnation. Is that something new to worry about?

I was first introduced to process pedagogy when I was a student in Lee Brooks' sophomore high school English class. The idea literally changed my life. I believe I would never have gone on to become a professional writer and writing teacher without that experience. As a result, process pedagogy continues to play an important role in the way I teach writing and my teaching is strongly influenced by the work of Peter Elbow and Donald Murray. As Elbow teaches, I encourage true invention such as freewriting, playing with words, etc. As Murray teaches, I encourage writing for discovery and exploration and a willingness to take risks. I teach writing to writers and believe everyone is a writer. While I believe strongly in the power of process, I loath the forced structure taught in so many textbooks and classrooms. I believe every writer should develop an individual writing process that is flexible enough to adapt to many writing tasks. I long resisted the idea of post-process but admit that while I continue to think process is key to developing as a writer my classroom is more post-process. While it includes some element of choice and follows a workshop model that includes iterations of drafting, feedback, and revision, I do limit the range of topics and utilize mini lessons.

I firmly believe in placing the writer and writing at the center of the classroom and every activity and assignment is focused on one simple goal – writing development – which is definitely influenced by expressive pedagogy. My classes have long included freewriting, journals, reflective writing, and small group work. I am strongly influenced by bell hooks' “engaged pedagogy” and Paulo Freire's “liberatory pedagogy” as well as the work of James Britton and the National Writing Project. I understand I am teaching the whole student and I strive to build a critical consciousness about thinking and writing (and thinking about writing).

Collaboration has long been an important part of my life as a writer. As a published novelist I worked with writing groups and as a newspaper reporter and editor writing groups were also key. I learned the power of peer response for myself and as a result have always made it a part of my writing classroom and then as I learned more about the work of Kenneth Bruffee, Anne Ruggles Gere, and Richard Rorty collaborative pedagogy became a central part of my teaching. I believe, as Charlotte Thralls and Patricia A. Sullivan write, that collaborative pedagogy mirrors the true nature of writing and this is another reason it strongly influences my teaching.

Like Ira Shor I often ask myself, and my writing students, what is good writing and how do you become a good writer. My recent move to a writing studies pedagogy for my composition classes is a good demonstration of my own commitment to critical pedagogy. As Freire, Henry Giroux, and Shor have taught, my classes are student-centered and focused more on questions that students ask and answer than questions and answers provided by the instructor alone. I believe greatly in the power of thinking and communication and hope to improve the skills of my students in these essential areas but realize they must be able to take the lead to do so.

Of course these concerns also lend themselves to feminist pedagogy. I strive to decenter authority in my classes as much as possible and place more emphasis on process than product. I hope my students will gain a better understanding of social justice and issues of power as we read, write, and think together to explore these important issues.

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