For me, teaching is an evolving activity: I’m not the same teacher today that I was ten years ago or even five years ago. To articulate my philosophy of teaching is to capture the teacher that I am at this moment, not the teacher I was nor the teacher I wish to become. Central to my teaching philosophy is the notion that theory and practice are integrated activities. My teaching evolves with my expanding reading of theoretical and empirical texts, with my continuing experience in the classroom, and with my growing awareness of the work of other disciplines. In many respects, the teacher I am today is shaped by my experiences as specifically a teacher of writing, but also more generally by my experiences working with faculty as part of the Undergraduate Education Implementation Task Force at Kansas State University. While a faculty member at KSU, I was a member of this Task Force, and I realized some of the essential values that teachers across disciplines hold. Fundamentally, four ideas shape my philosophy of teaching: (1) I believe in the value and power of language, (2) I believe that teachers and students must stay abreast of technology, (3) I believe that teaching and learning involve action and reflection, (4) I believe in connecting students’ learning to something that they know or value.
I believe in the value and power of language. Drawing on social theories of language--theories that argue that language is a situated activity--I help students understand the value that writing plays in the communities for which they are a part. In the university, of course, this means the academic community at large and the particular discourse communities of students' fields of study. I encourage students in all of my courses to examine the rhetorical situation at work--the writer(s), readers, text, and context. Furthermore, as a writing teacher, I help my students realize that writing, reading, and speaking are valuable and empowering not just in the university but also in the broader society as well. Theorists and researchers argue that reading, writing, and speaking are situated, integrated, symbiotic activities, and so I strive to help students understand the ways in which all language activities are formed and determined. I work to help students see the important ways in which these activities shape and constitute their personal, academic, professional, and societal identities. I believe that we must help students realize the value of and feel confident using language in all of these arenas.
I believe that teachers and students must be part of the constantly changing technological landscape. Because technology permeates our lives, writing teachers have a particular need to help students become fluent in the literate practices of a technological age. Writing and reading practices are evolving, and students need to have access to technology not only in their major coursework but also in their writing courses as well. At the 2000 Watson Conference on Rhetoric at the University of Louisville, all keynote speakers and most session speakers addressed the way that technology is changing not only literacy practices, but educational and social practices. For students, these changes mean that they must become knowledgeable, experienced users of language in new venues; they must be able to adapt their writing to new technologies; they must become savvy surveyors of rhetorical situations; they must become astute and critical disseminators of light-speed information overload. As a teacher, I work to help my students with these issues: whether it be examining and exploring the Internet as a research tool in Expository Writing I, to helping students understand strategies for writing and designing web pages in Technical Writing, or offering students the option to create hypertext or Web writing projects in a literature class. For me, it is important to strike a balance between more traditional forms of academic discourse and emerging (technological) forms of acceptable academic and civic discourse. I integrate technology such as multi-media classroom presentations into my teaching practices as well. I work to keep pace with technology; there's always more to do, but I think it is essential for me as a teacher to stay abreast of trends in technology.
I believe that teaching and learning involve reflection and action. As a teacher, I allow space in my pedagogy for students to reflect upon what they’ve learned; sometimes they write reflective essays about their writing practices, sometimes the reflection occurs in less formal ways. But I believe that one can't know what one knows until one has the opportunity to reflect upon his or her experiences. Students often tell me that it was through these reflection opportunities that they came to synthesize and integrate their new skills and knowledge. They are then better able to apply their newly conceived skills across assignments, projects, discourses, or courses. I routinely tell students that I want them to leave my class with a "toolbox" that they can use for any type of writing or literacy task they face in the university, in the workplace, or in civic life. By reflecting upon their experiences, they gain the insight for knowing what is in their toolbox as well as how and when to use it effectively.
For me, teaching, which itself is a learning activity, also involves reflection. Of course, I reflect upon my teaching evaluations every semester and by doing so, I learn from my students' experiences in class. Often, I modify parts of the course to take into account students' comments. For example, students requested fewer complex projects and more shorter assignments in technical writing, and so this semester, I have integrated their ideas. However, I also reflect upon other classroom issues as well. For example, because teacher-written response is a core area of my scholarly work, I continually reflect upon my response practices. From this reflection, I have learned the value of trying different response practices for different situations and assignments, and I have integrated this pedagogical strategy not only in the classroom but also in my presentations on teacher response to graduate students and faculty. Across disciplines, teacher-scholars are arguing for the value of reflection as an important area of scholarship within the academy because reflection and action are key to improving teaching and learning.
I believe in connecting students’ learning to something they know or value. The concept of connection is one of the criteria the KSU Undergraduate Implementation Task Force uses to approve courses. As a member of this task force, I have come to realize the value of this concept and the theory behind it. Many students learn best when they are able to apply or overlay new concepts onto an already existing cognitive framework or value system. For instance, often in first year composition courses students feel as if the writing they are doing differs from the kinds of writing they did in high school. I try to connect key concepts of the writing activities in my course to their past experiences in high school. At first glance, students often don't see the connection for themselves, but once it has been highlighted for them, they begin to feel more at ease in the course and more open to the new expectations of college-level writing. In technical writing courses, I do the same thing: connect students' current learning to their previous experiences or to their current values. My dissertation research into student response to teacher-written comments further illuminated this connection: students who understood the course goals and expectations and could connect that to their previous writing courses had overall better reactions to reading and valuing their teacher's written comments. The concept of connecting learning to experience or values is an appeal of service learning opportunities for writing courses because students will have the chance to see how writing works in real situations and gain "real" experiences on which to further draw.
My teaching philosophy values
the interconnectedness of language, learning, and context as elements that
inform both writing practices in specific and learning experiences in general.