Instructor: Bree McGregor
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching Philosophy Statement
At Arizona Western College, many of my students have grown up crossing Mexico’s border to farm Arizona’s lettuce fields, they have enlisted and deployed to combat zones before the age of 21, and they have raised families as single parents while holding down two jobs. These important life experiences shape their identities and the knowledge and skills they bring to the classroom. In my writing courses, this diversity is valued for its ability to enrich the learning experience for all students. By sharing their unique perspectives in an environment of mutual respect and trust (founded upon principles of participation and citizenship), my students do more than complete readings and assignments and earn grades: they form learning communities in which their experiences are shared and new meaning is formed, through active engagement with their peers and the course material. In this way, diversity is recognized, respected, and leveraged to empower a community of writers.
Within this community, learning takes place when students’ beliefs and attitudes about writing are challenged and when students are willing to take risks. This is facilitated through active learning opportunities. Students quickly discover that my writing courses involve very little lecture and lots of active engagement: hands-on practice, collaboration, discussions, workshops, conferences, drafts, and revisions. Learning is enacted as process of practice, failure, reflection, and more practice. The writing process itself is recognized as equally valuable to the final product, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than breaking students of the one-draft-and-done habit. One project in particular that emphasizes the value of this process is the writing portfolio. In these two culminating writing projects, the Freshman Composition and Technical Communication portfolios, students work through multiple drafts and write personal reflections and analyses of their own work.
Writing habits are critical to any writer’s success, and I have described the writing process administered in my course as one that is both recursive and dialectical in nature. We embrace the horrible first draft; Anne Lamott becomes my students’ champion, and “shitty-first-drafts” becomes our class mantra. Many students struggle to believe that writers aren’t born, that they are made through failures and commitment to repetitive practice. So I teach writing as a process that requires students to silence their inner critic, envision their audience and their purpose, and allow discovery to direct their writing. My students learn that successful writing has, at its core, a careful attention to audience and purpose, and that an ethical treatment of these principles leads to a responsible community of writers. Such principles are exemplified in this student-created blog, AWC: Take the Bull by the Horns that indoctrinates new and future students to college life at AWC, developed and published by five sections of my Introduction to Composition and Freshman Composition students.
Recognizing the rhetorical value of student writing designed for audience members other than myself, I design curriculum that offers students the opportunity to write for an audience beyond the classroom walls, work closely with subject matter experts, and research and write about local subcultures outside of their own, creating situated learning experiences that bridge the gap between writing theory (academy) and practice (industry). I accomplish this through a variety of methods. One such method is the meaningful use of social media and digital writing tools, as exemplified in this LinkedIn assignment, which is a part of Technical Communication students’ job application project. Students develop LinkedIn profiles, research their future career fields, and connect with professionals in their chosen industries – seeking answers and engaging in conversations. The Technical Communication students also complete a collaborative writing project for a federal government organization, working closely with a subject matter expert to complete written materials and receive feedback on their work. Finally, my Freshman Composition students forego the traditional library research project in favor of the ethnography, and their research methods include fieldwork: interviews and observations. In this way, students engage in 21st Century literacy practices with discourse communities beyond their classroom walls, and they experience firsthand the realities of rhetorical considerations in the writing process.
Throughout the semester, as students engage in writing projects, I make conscious efforts to establish productive, successful relationships with each of my students through my own communication practices. I do so by giving formal and informal written feedback of their work, mandating individual and group conferences and meetings, participating in group discussions and activities, and soliciting students’ self-evaluations and reflections. Often I have found that a 15-minute conversation in-person or via Skype can do more to empower a student than an entire semester of written feedback, so whenever possible, I make the effort to connect with students face to face. My goal, in establishing these relationships, is to better understand each student’s needs, and to help them become independent, successful learners.
These communication practices extend to my evaluation methods as well, methods that are communicated clearly from the moment work is assigned, as illustrated in this evaluation rubric and these self-reflection surveys. I find rubrics to be useful evaluation tools because students can use them as a reference when they reflect upon and revise their own work. They are also useful tools for discussing students’ evaluated work. Formative feedback is especially important in a writing course that places a great deal of value on writing as a multi-stage process. My students receive formative feedback regularly during the writing process from both their peers and me, in the form of conferences, workshops, status reports, and pulse-checks. When students submit their work, they finalize a project by composing a self-reflection geared to help them communicate to me what they learned, what they still struggle with, and what they most enjoyed. This helps me understand how to better support the individual student’s needs and improve the overall design of writing projects. Students are always encouraged to schedule conferences to talk in person or by Skype, discussing their work in even greater depth. In doing so, my goal is to further the student-instructor relationship and provide individuals with the help they need to reach their learning goals.
As a writing teacher, I see myself fulfilling a role of facilitator and coach, learning as much from my students each semester as they learn from me. My job is to create the framework for this community of learners, support their development, and enable students to acquire the tools, experiences, skills and knowledge they need to become empowered communicators in their academic pursuits, in their communities, and in their professions.