Teaching Philosophy

For composition students, learning takes place when the role of the student ceases to be a passive recipient of information. Instead, when students begin to realize that behind each piece of rhetoric exists an author who has made choices in the creation of that rhetoric, and they begin to evaluate those choices, only then do they become active learners. Too often, students see forms of rhetoric as static, finished products instead of something that was actively created by a person who, behind the curtain of the page, actively performs. In order for students to learn how to be thoughtful participants in any discourse, they must first learn to pay attention to the person behind the curtain. Through identifying the choices authors have made about their purpose and how to best convey that purpose within a specific discourse community, students learn what is required of them in order to be active and successful practitioners of rhetoric. Thus, the objective of my composition course is to teach students to identify their own writing and the writing of others as participation in a larger discourse community where the purpose, audience, manner of speech, and formal conventions are understood and utilized.

Helping students to realize the larger discourse communities in which they participate begins by establishing the classroom as their primary discourse community. In a seminar format that mixes craft and workshop elements, students participate by offering their own unique ideas through their own compositions and through their ideas about the compositions of professionals and their fellow students. Reading assignments in the form of essays, public documents, and literature are the main focus point of class discussion. To help students realize that all texts have a working writer behind the scenes and that they too are working writers, I primarily use two types of texts: those that focus on the craft of writing and those written by faculty members at Purdue. These texts are discussed in both small groups and as a class, where everyone is allowed to offer their perspective, whether it be an emotional reaction or an analytic response. As students begin to discuss the material, they are increasingly asked to identify choices the author has made in producing that form of rhetoric and how those choices adhere to the author’s purpose.

As students begin to analyze the work of professional writers, they are simultaneously asked to be an active and analytic audience for their peers. Many of the assignments, both large and small, will be discussed, at times in groups of five, and at other times as a whole class. Through reading each other’s work, students are forced to see a working writer (another student) who is making decisions in creating a composition. Alternatively, as authors, students are forced to confront an audience who doesn’t always know what they know or see the finished product they imagine. By witnessing the struggles or concerns an audience might have with their own work, students realize, once again, that rhetoric is a medium between author and audience, not a static product.

My role in the classroom is to facilitate learning experiences for the students, not to make those experiences happen. My role is not that dissimilar from their own. I am a part of their discourse community. I am primarily an audience member, but I am not the only audience member. My job, as I see it, is to demonstrate the type of analytical audience member that I want each student to be for their peers and for themselves. My role is to be both the instructor of a craft oriented course who offers the students an experienced perspective on tools of the trade and the leader of workshop who allows the students to do the analytic work necessary for them to grow as writers.

The course begins with literature and public document readings and in the first few weeks the students are given time to ease into their discourse community. At this time, the students are also asked to begin a new role as an analytic audience members. Students are asked to write analytic responses on any of the readings, to formulate a specific issue within the text they want to discuss, and to argue how that issue manifests itself in the text and how it affects or effects the author’s purpose. The main focus at this time is for students to do more than summarize. Students read each other’s work and provide comments about what they learned from their peers’ compositions. In this way, students are asked to recognize what it means to offer something new to a discourse community. Each subsequent project is handled in a similar fashion. The content of the course moves to public documents and essays written on public rhetoric. Next, students delve more deeply into literature and treatises on various literary genres. Last, students are asked to tackle the essay. Multiple essays are read from professors at Purdue in various fields. These readings show students that composition skills are important in every field and industry and provides them with a sense of the lexical and formal conventions unique to each field. For both public rhetoric and literature, students are asked to turn in a 4 page analysis of one or two examples form class. For the essay unit, students are asked to utilize what they have learned about purpose, audience, and formal conventions in their own essay written on a topic of their choice.

Under this philosophy, students are taught an awareness of composition and the rhetorical situation through recognition of the author’s process and the author’s placement in a larger discussion with predetermined genres, rules, and lexicons. Students, in order to be successful participants in the multitude of rhetorical situations that await them in their college and professional careers, must realize that composition is not a product but a performance that requires the writer to struggle, to choices, and, ultimately, to work.