Principled Teaching Practices

When I mention “principled practice,” I am calling back to two traditions in writing research and writing program administration: Arthur Applebee (via Peter Smagorinsky) and Linda Adler-Kassner.

In a 1986 editorial introduction to Research in the Teaching of English (which Smagorinsky (2009) would later reference – that’s how I found my way to it), Arthur Applebee refers to the idea of developing principled practices for teaching.  Smagorinsky would put this up against “best” practices, arguing that principled practices allow us to attend to practices that respond to context and our values.

Adler-Kassner comes at the idea of principle from another angle.  She sees principles as a way to make sure both the long-term plans (strategies) and day-to-day decisions (tactics) you engage in are informed by what you value—that is, what matters to you.

To explain my teaching, I talk often about principled practiceshow I mobilize my knowledge of writing instruction, the content I am teaching, and the needs of the students I have to meet course outcomes through my own values.  Below, I articulate the concerns that I bring to my teaching, then outline how I mobilize those concerns into values (i.e., principles), and then from there how those principles shape my curricular and pedagogical choices.

Before I go further, though, I should mention some of the specifics of my own teaching situation, as it influences pretty heavily what I emphasize in the principles that I write up.

I teach writing-intensive courses in the English Department at the University of Maine.  A fair amount of my teaching is geared toward College Composition, either by teaching the new graduate teaching assistants in English 693 or by teaching the course itself.

I also teach writing-intensive courses as the sophomore, junior, and senior levels (English 201, 301, 315, and 402).  The topics in these courses vary, but are generally geared toward a wide variety of majors (English 201 and 315) or to English and Education majors looking to learn more about writing research (English 301 and 402).

In addition to English 693, I have also taught English 518, which is a special topics course in professional and technical writing.  In Summer 2018, for instance, I taught a graduate-level introduction to Actor-Network Theory and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, and how we could bring those theories to bear on studying writing in professional organizations.

Obviously, the goals, student make-up, location in a broader curriculum, etc. of these courses vary considerably, but there are a few key characteristics that don’t change.  These classes all have fairly low enrollment caps compared to other courses in other disciplines (22 max, although some are lower).

They are all tagged as writing-intensive, meaning that writing is at the center of what happens in the class.  They are also all topics on writing, so I’m not trying to blend some other topic with writing instruction (an option not all teachers of writing have available to them).

These characteristics impact the way I think of my teaching principles in some way or other.  Hopefully they help you make sense of what I choose to emphasize in the principles, curriculum, and pedagogy I discuss.  A list of my presentations and publications are also available for anyone interested.