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 guiding 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. I achieve these teaching goals by focusing on teaching problem-based research practices; assigning genres found in students’ future professions and lives; through emphasizing collaboration; and by mentoring students throughout their entire experience in the classroom and beyond. 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. I do not want them to simply succeed in school, but to also help them develop curiosities and empathy that will guide them in their daily lives.
In both my first-year composition and tutor education courses, inquiry guides many of the class projects. In all of first-year composition courses, and particularly in the documentary approach course, students were asked to engage in both primary and secondary research methods. Using Dana Driscoll’s article “Introduction to Primary Research” early in the semester, I helped students learn about and practice observations, surveys, and interviews, and in the final cumulative research paper, students were asked to combine their primary research knowledge with secondary research practices, including information literacy, disciplinary literature reviews, and utilizing library databases. Because the course was also themed around the concept of “access and space,” students had to apply their research methods learning to solving issues of importance around campus: physical access to spaces, educational access to historically disadvantaged students, and financial access to spaces like the campus health center and the university’s counseling services. I learned right alongside my students in this course that there are many challenges to overcome as we design more accessible physical and psychical spaces for college students and that there are ways to conduct ethical research to begin solving some of those problems.
Similarly, in the tutor education course, problem-centered research was a primary theme. The final project was a research study design, in which students would identify an 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, with some developing them into honors thesis projects or presenting on their work at national and regional writing center conferences. 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.
Using primary and inquiry-based research in the classroom also allows me to design assignments in which students must engage with real genres they will write in the future, particularly genres utilized to change or better the world around them. 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 developed their own resource idea, and wrote 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 created web design mock-ups for the resource, as well as a final presentation to the class. The students’ proposed projects ranged from a new Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) app to a crowd-sourced peer review resource. Their designs were intricate and focused on usability, and I was incredibly impressed with the work they created. 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 helped the students develop future writing and communication skills that they will need in their disciplines and future careers. Additionally, the collaborative nature of the project asked students to engage in the writing process not only as individuals but as teams working towards a common goal.
While I am proud of the ways in which my students learn to collaborate and solve problems, the thing I take the most pride in as a teacher and mentor is my ability to form true connections with my students. Compassion guides my teaching, and I try to be supportive and understanding of students always. Last year, I had several students who struggled with the stress of college, and by personally reaching out and talking to them, I was able to help them get into the university’s counseling services and work with them on adjusting assignments and deadlines so they could achieve their goals of As and Bs in the course. In the Writing Lab, I developed close mentoring relationships not only in the classroom but also in the Lab itself. I facilitated staff meetings and activities that would allow tutors to advance professionally while also encouraging friendships and camaraderie. Additionally, I developed collaborative research projects with undergraduate tutors who were originally my students, and I have become the go-to mentor for both undergraduate and graduate tutors in the Lab who want to begin doing writing center research. I began teaching because of the important mentorship roles my own teachers modeled for me, so it is important to think about how my actions model behaviors I want my students to continue to engage in as they become citizens of the world.