Writing classes should be spaces for questioning, for listening, and, ultimately, for action. As a teacher of writing and rhetoric, my pedagogy is grounded in the belief that rhetoric, in all its material and affective forms, has power, and that, through writing, students can assert their identities, participate in civic discussions, and solve problems or facilitate change within communities, workplaces, and publics. My commitment to teaching can be further articulated along three interconnected threads, all of which guide my practice in the dynamic and diverse learning spaces in which I work.
writing is about meaningful intervention
When reflecting about what I value in student work, I often meditate on the definition of intervention, meaning, “to come between, to alter, to change.” Intervention, if done with rigor, is not haphazard or uncritical; it is careful, mindful, and planned. Guided by public writing pedagogies and theories (Edbauer Rice; Farmer; Fraser; Rivers & Weber), I work hard to build meaningful ways for students to intervene in writing ecologies that hold significance for them. For example, when teaching a professional writing course, “Digital Rhetoric and Writing,” I asked students to follow and research a civic issue throughout the semester. As the course progressed, students made reflective and goal-oriented interventions in their public topics by designing, revising, and delivering three different multimodal compositions (e.g., a visual argument, a sonic essay, and a video). By having to adjust their interventions to consider the affordances and constraints of new media and genres, students were able to consider multiple perspectives along the way.
To this end, while I recognize the importance of traditional forms of argument, I also validate the transformative potential of alternative routes for participating in public arenas. Such an approach is represented in student projects across multiple courses: one student in my first-year writing course used the genre of political video remix to challenge rape culture on campus; another compiled a faux-exam with satirical answers and questions to draw attention to the cultural biases inherent in standardized tests; and another wrote a complex personal narrative about the power dynamics of navigating a small-town controversy. I get excited when students think innovatively and rhetorically about how best to intervene in complex situations—whether it’s designing usable documents in a business writing course or crafting multi-genre texts for a digital rhetoric course. From graduate education to first-year writing, I believe a pedagogy of intervention allows students to think about how best to put their oars into the preceding and ongoing flows of public discourse.
rhetoric is digital, multimodal, and adaptable
As a teacher-scholar of digital rhetorics, I am committed to teaching what Collin Gifford Brooke calls Classical Rhetoric 2.0—updating productive, generative, and critical understandings of what rhetoric means and does within digitally mediated contexts. In my classes, this often plays out by drawing on classical concepts (e.g., kairos, arrangement, imitation, delivery, etc.), but also by asking students to think of ways such concepts might be updated or adapted for writing they do in media-rich environments. Guided by theories of new media, materiality, and multimodality (e.g., Alexander & Rhodes; Ceraso; Rickert; Selfe; Shipka; Yancey; Wysocki), I ask students to explore writing as a multimodal art by being attentive to how images, sounds, bodies, material interfaces, digital networks, and ambient environments impact communication in both mundane and substantial ways.
I often encourage students to use all the available means and experiment with a wide range of modalities and composing technologies. For example, as an invention and listening exercise, students have recorded soundscapes to practice reflective listening and attune themselves to their local environments; they have composed visual rhetorical analyses by organizing their rhetorical critiques and comments on a timeline using page layout software; and they have recorded screencasts to make affective statements about how networked technologies impact their daily lives. I encourage a wide array of composing strategies because I recognize that writers in today’s networked and globally connected world need to be versatile as they deliver documents and communicate across varied cultural, technological, and political contexts. Although digital rhetoric, multimodality, and new media are often conceived of as composing with the newest or greatest technologies, I enjoy building on, incorporating, and validating students’ past technological literacies when teaching with technology. It’s exciting when students recognize they have more expertise than they once thought they had in the realm of digital communications—from here, the work of the course becomes developing critical, reflective, and adaptable practices that can transfer to other writing situations.
teaching is a kairotic, reflective, and intercultural practice
Educational spaces should be accessible and safe for all learners. Although I recognize that no space is ever truly “safe,” I strive to build the infrastructure for collaboratively sustaining with students “safer spaces” (Yergeau et al.) for all class participants. This requires that I practice kairotic, reflective, and collaborative teaching, understanding that axes of embodied difference are always present in any communicative exchange (including online courses). To put this into action, I create multiple pathways for class success and participation, but also engage in reflective practice to continually ask about how course materials and activities can be better accessed for all students: e.g., making and distributing instructional videos to provide more detail about an important concept or visualizing assignment sheets to provide another pathway for understanding course expectations. I make it a goal to meet individually with students at least once per semester and often seek anonymous feedback about how learning can be enhanced in the course.
In addition, my experience working with multilingual writers, international students, and first-generation students has underscored how crossing borders—linguistic, cultural, and/or geopolitical—can ultimately enrich communication experiences within and beyond the classroom, if practiced with care, respect, and mindful reflection. To this end, I view linguistic diversity as a resource for meaning-making, not as a barrier to be overcome or expunged (Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur). I support students as they build on their unique language learning experiences, committing to assessing writing through a contextual and rhetorical lens. Yet, recognizing the very real political demand for so-called unmarked writing, I also work with students to accomplish their particular rhetorical goals. For example, when working with a Chinese international student on her employment application letter in my business writing course, I worked throughout the revision process to show her patterns in her writing that fell outside of the dominant conception of standardized American English. Working to build safer spaces across cultures and learning abilities starts with good infrastructure, but it also demands that I practice adaptable, reflective, and collaborative pedagogy in all of the courses I teach.
Crucially, I believe building rapport with students by regarding them as adults with a wealth of knowledge and prior experience can lead to mutual respect, enhanced trust, and higher degrees of student agency. This overarching principle makes my teaching goals more attainable, but it also allows students to negotiate what they want to pursue inside and outside of the classroom.