Teaching Principles

The first-year writing program that I direct (see Writing Program Administration for details) is based on five principles.  According to our program document, teachers of College Composition should develop “instructional dispositions, classroom activities, writing assignments, and feedback practices that”:

  • Respect the importance and complexity of writing as a social practice;
  • Support students as they repurpose past writing practices for academic purposes;
  • Respect student labor;
  • Introduce students to the social purposes of academic writing via a meaningful, legitimate, and collaborative semester-long project; and
  • Reflect ethical, responsible assessment practices (Teaching Principles)

These principles certainly align with my own teaching principles, although the specifics are very much geared toward teaching first-year writing and, even more particularly, to helping new graduate teaching assistants make sense of the values that our program has when teaching first-year writing.

The language of my own teaching principles, then, are a bit more broad in nature, so that they have a more effective “fit” outside of English 101.  They also are framed in language a bit more useful to me, as someone who is not only teaching writing but conducting research on writing (and the teaching of it).  So you can think of my own principles as expanding on (but also including) the ones above.  They are framed in a way that helps me think through my choices more effectively based on my past experiences, training, and teaching goals.  Below, I articulate the principles.  In the other pages on this section, I demonstrate how they are enacted in my classes.

I design curricula and make pedagogical choices that

Respect student labor: Students put in work to make sense of, participate in, and learn with my classes, and the various ways that work happens need to be respected, valued, and at the center of what we do in class. Students do the labor of our class in various times and places: they write on breaks at work, at the bus stop, and in other uncomfortable spaces where they can fit the work of learning into their complex lives.  Respecting student labor means respecting that the work students hand in is the best they could do in the circumstances they are working in and, furthermore, that this work is what they will have to build on in the next assignment.  My teaching is designed to respect this labor by seeing it as both the result of students’ best efforts and a springboard for further work.

Respect the ongoing negotiation of language: Language use is always a negotiation. When we interact with others, we work together to make sense of what we’re saying, what we mean by what we’re saying, and what the consequences of what we’re saying might be.  It’s no different when teachers work with students to discuss the specifics of an assignment, the meanings of a reading, or the outcomes of a course.  This negotiation is ongoing: we will always be working to make more (and better) sense of what we mean with various assignment and activity directions, course policies, course outcomes, etc.  In class, this means creating space to discuss what an assignment prompt is asking us to do; diving fully into what might be seen as a misunderstanding of a course text; and continually revising our understandings of what our course outcomes are and mean.

Support and build on developmental moments: Students develop as writers and learners in consequential moments that pepper their academic lives. The reading of a particular sentence, a passing comment made by a colleague, or a line of reasoning pursued to a confusing conclusion can be sparks for further intellectual development.  These potential developmental moments may fail to unfold, however, if not noticed and capitalized by the teacher.  In my feedback on student writing and my steering of class discussion, I try to use these developmental moments to encourage students to continually push their thinking.  I also create conditions in class—through board notes, Google Docs, and small-group “deliverables” (such as a short presentations)—that allow students to see and build on one another’s breakthroughs.

Each of these principles shape my curricular and pedagogical decision-making.  In my pages on curriculum and pedagogy, I articulate this a bit further, showing how I mobilize my principles for making curricular and pedagogical decisions within the context of the programs, departments, and colleges in which I am working.  I’ve also done some work to publish and present on my teaching decisions, which you can find here.