My philosophy of teaching writing emanates from my one-on-one consultations with students in the writing center. These sessions affirm that there is no universal method for composition because students handle the complex, recursive process of writing in their own idiosyncratic ways. My experience affirms Muriel Harris’ theory that writing is best taught and learned in a one-on-one setting because students write best when they think and feel like writers. To make students envision themselves as writers, I ask them to set personal goals for their consultations and for their writing. This strategy allows me to determine where students are in the writing process, as well as where they are in their development as writers. With this information, I can then accomplish my twin goals of helping the student to the next phase in the writing process and to the next stage in their development as writers.
To achieve these goals, I engage students in conversations about their texts because talking about writing, as James Britton says, is writing. When I sit side-by-side with them during a session, I am an interested and inquisitive audience focused on the meanings the writers make. Dialoging with students about their writing validates the experiences they bring to their compositions and flattens hierarchies in the learning dynamic. It also helps me to follow Mina Shaughnessy’s practice of understanding the reasons for writers’ choices, so that I can provide them new strategies for creating more effective prose. My approach is also informed by Gregory Schraw’s and Rayne Sperling Dennison’s scholarship on metacognition’s role in learning because when students are actively thinking about how they write, they are more likely to implement the invention, revision, and polishing strategies they learn in the writing center in their next writing tasks.
As an impassioned advocate for writing, one of my goals is to build writers’ confidence so that they can take pleasure in composing and pride in the texts they produce. Although Liliana Tolchinsky demonstrates that humans are born communicators and writers, students’ accumulated academic writing experiences often leave them feeling less than the symbol-using animals Kenneth Burke posits them to be. In the tradition of Stephen North, I believe that producing better writers produces better writing. To this end, I focus on students’ strengths to build their self-efficacy, which Frank Pajares’ and Gio Valiante’s research shows is fundamental to their development as writers. When students are confident in their abilities to compose, they are more likely to take risks with their writing, allowing them to make new connections that result in authentic learning.
In my introduction to college writing course, I accomplished my goal of making students think and feel like writers by creating opportunities for them to discuss their writing. Since my approach to teaching is influenced by social theories of writing, like those of James Berlin and Lester Faigley, one of my aims is to teach students that no author writes in a vacuum. To create a community of writers that understands the social power of texts, I encourage students to make connections between course readings and their lives. In this particular course, students’ experiences are the foundation of their quest to create new knowledge. By conducting classes in a discussion-based format, students share their views and learn from others’ perspectives, which then makes their writing more complex. For instance, during a unit on language and culture, students from different linguistic backgrounds shared their experiences of learning to speak English. This discussion raised issues for each student that they considered important enough to include in their essays on legislating English as a national language.
Drafting and revision are major focus areas in this course, and my experience in the writing center helped me achieve my goal of developing students’ peer-review skill sets. By using the writing center as a model for writing workshops, students learn to ask questions about their writing as well as how to provide helpful feedback to their peers. From this revision exercise, students found that being an active audience for another writer actually helped them with their own essays. Throughout the writing process, I followed Richard Beach’s and Tom Friedrich’s model for providing draft specific oral and written feedback. By focusing on global concerns early in the drafting process, students have the opportunity to focus on one set of revision skills at a time, which makes writing a less stressful endeavor. I also encourage them to fully transform their texts from draft to draft because they are revising their ideas to create new meanings and not to simply swapping out words or adding commas.
As writers and readers, students need to be able to make meanings in a variety of media. Following Cynthia Selfe’s and Gail Hawisher’s incremental approach to using technology in the classroom, students used online discussion boards to create a virtual community, where they could share ideas and advice while revising. Since writers grow by writing frequently, I combine Edith Baker’s practice of assigning frequent short writing tasks with Erika Lindemann’s philosophy of creating purposeful, open-ended assignments that are intended for specific audiences. By invoking an audience in an assignment, I can teach students the conventions of academic writing, while helping them, as Min-Zhan Lu suggests, to understand that different discourses have different types of power.
Assessing student learning and adjudicating the efficacy of my writing consultations and classroom teaching are important for my professional development. In the same way that I challenge writers to develop their skill sets with new techniques, I challenge myself to experiment with new methodologies and to critically reflect on my practice. As a writer, teacher, and student of Composition, I strive to embody best teaching practices by reading the latest composition research and conferencing with my colleagues, mentors, and teachers. I am fortunate to have experienced the transformative power of writing and want students to know that their writing matters. To this end, I will continue learn new pedagogical strategies to be a more effective teacher. Whether in the writing center or in the classroom, my ultimate goal is for students to write with confidence in their academic, professional, and personal lives.