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

Principle 1: Respect student labor

This carries over just fine from the College Composition Teaching Principles.  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.

Principle 2: Acknowledge that writing emerges from the situated production of literate action

Writing—all writing—happens in specific times and places, with specific materials and for specific purposes.  We cannot discuss writing outside of this material and contextualized way without losing some of the understandings that are native to the production of literate action.  This is something I continually bring attention back through in my courses: the mundane, daily work of producing text.

Principle 3: Recognize how students circulate materials back to themselves when engaged in literate action

Because writing is always material, always contextual when it is produced, the ways in which people circulate texts, tools, and other objects back to themselves in recurring writing situations is important.  How, for instance, might a student work to create a quiet space in the corner of the library to write on a regular schedule over time?  How might teachers craft assignments that support this circulation, and encourage an expansion of it in order to facilitate writing development?

Principle 4: Support and build on individuated, fragile, interactional moments of meaningful literate action development

Speaking of development, as I mention in my book, development happens in small doses over time.  They occur in the fragile work of producing social order.  Teachers need to make curricular and pedagogical choices that (1) bring these individuated, fragile interactional moments to the surface and (2) supports students as they move from those moments into future writing activities.

Principle 5: Respect the ongoing negotiation from which aligned understandings of course outcomes emerge

Outcomes are an important part of a class, as they can help students make sense of the “payoff” for the time and energy that they’ve committed to it.  But simply posting the outcomes at the start of a class is not enough for students to understand them.  Rather, students need frequent opportunities to engage with the language of course outcomes so that they can align their understandings with those of the teacher and develop their understandings further as the course develops.  The language of the outcomes can, if teachers plan carefully, become caught up within the situated production of literate action, end up embedded in the circulation of materials, and co-construct the fragile developmental moments that teachers are aiming to create.

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.