In the last several years, I have taught multiple introductory composition courses, as well as tutor education courses. My teaching is largely based in collaborative pedagogy and influenced by my work in writing center tutoring and administration. Digital writing and design are important parts of my pedagogy, as well. As a woman, first-generation college student, and creative writer, I understand the importance of identity to the ways in which we write and communicate, so identity and community play a major role in the way I teach writing and tutoring. I design my lessons and assignments in hopes that students will leave my classroom as stronger writers, better community members, and real-world problem-solvers.
In my first-year composition classes, I have taught using multiple frameworks, including writing about writing and digital rhetoric. My writing about writing-based courses were focused on identities and discourse communities, and students were asked to consider their own histories, communities, and activities as sources for the ways in which writing is a knowledge-making process. In my digital rhetoric-based composition courses, students were asked to consider issues of access and design in their writing and communication. I approached digital rhetoric as a form of multimodal composition, so students were asked to analyze, research, and write about digital forms of communication – particularly, writing and designing for the web. In the second half of the semester, students worked in groups to create an online resource for writers. Students began the project by analyzing the Purdue OWL and offering alternative formats or designs for it. They then come up with their own resource idea, and write a 12-15 page, research-based grant proposal outlining what their resource would be. As a final component to the project, the student groups then create web design mock-ups for the resource, as well as a final presentation to the class. Because this particular course design was used at Purdue University, a STEM school in which most introductory composition students are in business, engineering, or computer science, developing rhetorically-based design projects helps students develop future writing and communication skills that they will need in their disciplines and future careers.
Developing useful skills for future practice is of even more direct importance in the tutor education courses I teach. At Purdue, I have taught two versions of a tutoring education course. One course is Tutoring for Business and Professional Writing, where students with backgrounds in STEM, business, or professional writing learn writing center theory and pedagogy the semester before they begin tutoring in the Purdue Writing Lab, where they will specialize in job documents and professional communication. The other course I have taught is a more general version, Tutoring Writing, in which students choose to be generalized undergraduate tutors or business writing consultants at the end of the semester. In this course, I focus on both practical tutoring skills, such as agenda-setting and working with ESL students, and on more difficulty theory. Harry Denny’s work on identity and “coming out” in the writing center, as well as the work of Donna LeCourt and the edited collection Writing Centers and the New Racism, directly influence what and how I teach future tutors. I want tutors to not only understand the basics of collaborative learning processes, but to also understand the ways in which collaborative learning is complicated by issues of race and ethnicity, class, sexuality and gender expression, disability, language and culture, and other identities.
In both my first-year composition and tutoring courses, inquiry guides many of the class projects. In the example I gave above of designing digital resources for writers, students had to identify and be able to specify in writing the need for a particular kind of resource. They then needed to use previously-used research or similar types of resources as a way to make the case for why their projects were necessary and desirable. In the tutoring course, the final project was a research study design, in which students would identify a problem or issue that they saw while shadowing weekly in the Writing Lab. As they began to identify problems, they developed research questions and created a study. They developed methods for solving the problem, a review of relevant literature, and possible hypotheses. The final project was a poster presentation on their study designs that was open to the public, in which students were asked questions and given feedback on their questions and designs. Some students decided to continue with their studies once the course was over and they were working in the Lab. These projects, which are inquiry-based and help to solve real-world problems, develop students’ critical thinking and research skills in a context that helps them see the need for writing and communication as a part of larger problem-solving activities.
Because of my pedagogical interests in identity, inquiry, and knowledge-making, I listen closely to students’ needs and am flexible in the classroom. Every semester, I regularly survey and discuss with students what they would like more or less of in the class. I pay close attention to constructive feedback in my semester evaluations and adjust my lesson-planning and project-scaffolding accordingly. I try to use multiple forms of media and styles to present material in order to make the course as accessible to different types of student learning needs as much as possible. I regularly meet students individually to provide them feedback on their work, and my written feedback focuses on clear questions and methods for revisions and future improvement. My goal is always for students to be able to transfer what they learn in my courses to their future coursework, professions, and to their interactions with other people.