Teaching

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University of North Dakota’s Chester Fritz Library

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is built around the concept of independent thinking and self-reliance. I aim to help my students learn how to lead their own learning and ask productive questions that help them move into and through a variety of texts.

I work to help my students develop these skills through hands-on practice and working to get them out of their comfort zone. For example, in my Intro to Creative Writing class, I often begin class with a brief writing exercise that not only primes them for the day’s work, but has them try a particular technique in miniature, where the stakes are low and experimentation is the goal. I set either a time or length requirement, and encourage students simply go at it. Frequently turning to low-stakes writing, I find, helps them get a sense of their own writing habits and learn what works for them. Also, these kinds of exercises model the kind of work most writers do when take a run at a particular writing task (and I tell them that). Generally, I attempt to validate and value these writing exercises and the interesting things they often help students find, by having volunteers read, and connecting some of their choices to what we’ve been reading or discussing. The idea is that they realize the interconnectedness inherent in a mindful writing practice—that writing tasks often have more in common than we might initially realize.

But while I aim to develop in my students an independent and critical mindset, I emphasize the importance of community when it comes to writing. It’s really a combination of independent exploration and collaboration that makes for the best experience and end product. Often, whether in a composition or creative writing class, I treat the class like a community of writers, and hold them accountable to one-another. Through formal and informal peer-review and critique, I help them see what kind of feedback is most useful, and how to turn that critical eye to their own writing.

When it comes to reading and engaging with texts in discussion, I opt for a kind of Socratic Method. In this, I aim to model the kind of question-asking that helps a reader move further into a text, and also appreciate its intertextuality. For the most part, I design class discussions so that students are able to take charge and use their responses to my questions to develop keen readings of the text in question, and readings that evidence a complex position. In this, I appreciate the language used by Bruce McComiskey in Teaching Composition as a Social Process. In it, he reckons with his students’ habit of approaching texts with a binary sensibility. His solution, and one I think works well, is to encourage his students to negotiate a more complex position in and among a variety of texts. “When we negotiate assigned texts,” he writes, “we articulate the points of intersections among both the texts themselves and our own cultural experiences” (76). Through working to situate themselves in relation to a particular question, and seeking a complex position as readers—rather than agreeing/disagreeing—students are forced to engage with the text on an intimate level and become more autonomous, self-directed readers.

Overall, I hope my pedagogical approach helps cultivate an inquisitive habit in my students that extends beyond the classroom and into their everyday lives, and that they put that habit to use in interrogating texts, regardless of where they encounter them. I aim for equal development of nuts-and-bolts writing and reading strategies and a quieter, more reflective mindset that allows students to understand the power and implications of even the smallest writing choice. My ultimate goal, in other words, is to help students develop a writerly sensibility and reading practice that is self-sustaining and is that is both challenging and refreshing in turn.

 

Recent Courses Taught

English 226: Intro to Creative Writing

An entry-level course that teaches students the foundational concepts of writing fiction and poetry. Students read a variety of contemporary short fiction and poetry, and learn to identify writerly choices and techniques, and then practice applying these to their own work. I split this course into craft-focused discussions of contemporary poetry and fiction (discussing some blurred-genre texts as well) and intensive, whole-class workshop.

English 110: College Composition

An introduction to the basics of academic writing. The course pedagogy is informed in part by Graff & Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say, helping students to recognize the basic ‘moves’ of academic writing, and employ these moves in responding to literary and scholarly texts. I emphasize the important of genre in this class, and strategies for identifying and responding to unique writing tasks.

English 130: College Composition II

A continuation of essential studies composition that moves from the basics of academic writing to writing for public audiences. Working from How Writing Works from Jack and Payral, in this course I walk students through some of the most common public & professional writing genres such as the recommendation report and grant proposal. A key goal of this course is to encourage students to become aware of genre conventions and learn that a simple awareness of genre can help them tackle whatever writing tasks they come across by knowing which questions to ask. I work to cultivate a sense in my 130 students that writing is inherently cross-disciplinary, hopefully preparing them to approach writing in their major effectively.