The following teaching philosophy, while written specifically with my first-year composition classroom in mind, could also be applied very generally.
On the whole, I consider education to be a two-way street: students learning from teachers, and teachers learning from students. I design any course I teach - regardless of the overall course objectives - with the course's "real-world" applications in mind. I do not believe that education should be a commodity, but a community obligation. I also consider education to be a naturally occurring experience of living, and as such, at its best, believe that learning should feel as natural as possible - even fun!
Melissa C. M. Glidden
All students deserve the opportunity to feel as though the skills and knowledge they are obtaining in their courses are not arbitrary and inconsequential, but practical and applicable to their lives.
When the semester is over, I expect that my composition students should not only know something about writing that they did not know a semester ago, but that they should know how to do something they did not know how to do a semester ago – these are profoundly different outcomes. In the composition classroom, the latter results in a shift in worldview, where students begin noticing the affect that the components and nuances of communication have in their daily lives. In exchange for their discipline, students deserve to leave the composition classroom prepared to identify, propose, and effectively defend the arguments and ideas that will propel them forward professionally, socially, and as citizens with a voice in a democratic society.
Learning as an architectural process
Like a contractor raises a building, so do we learn to write. We begin with a sketch of the edifice, teaching young students how to spell words and construct and punctuate sentences in preparation for composition. Later, we find students entering college with at least a basic understanding of how to gather information, and how to organize and deliver that information – the beams and rafters resting, stacked in the dirt around a concrete foundation.
Many first-year composition students seem surprised to learn that those beams and rafters – the bones of their writing – aren’t grammar and sentence mechanics. They’re ideas. During my years teaching writing, there is one thing that has remained consistent: “pretty writing” doesn’t always equate to skillful critical thinking and confident, convicted arguments. This is why I structure my coursework in such a way that students are required to begin raising those beams and rafters by exploring and engaging with their ideas, thinking critically, and thinking collaboratively. Then, they ready these edifices to open for business by polishing their compositions through conscientious revision activities.
What learning looks like
At every level of the process, and with every unit, I devise ways for my students to feel as though my classroom is a democratic environment. For example, I invite students to prepare for peer review sessions by suggesting criteria by which they will evaluate one anothers’ compositions. I also ensure that no unit can be completed without my students being required to engage themselves in the learning process at a high level, and on more than occasion. This can take a variety of forms: online discussion boards, in-class writing, or small group discussions and assignments to name a few. Regardless, it always looks the same. I provide instruction and guidance, and then I take a few steps over, empowering my students by encouraging them and allowing them the opportunity to evaluate and manipulate new ideas and concepts in their own hands.
The role of evaluation and feedback
It’s during instruction and evaluation that I allow myself, as the teacher, to step back in. Evaluation is not only an opportunity for me to provide feedback on my students’ work, but to maintain a presence in their learning process – like the building contractor, with blueprints in hand.
Feedback should be constant, and can happen while leading class discussion, or in the margins of student essays. However, feedback should also be collaborative, as it often is during conferences. Here, I provide students with suggestions for how they can improve their work, but I also make sure that students are provided with the opportunity to devise their own ideas and forge their own paths toward growth. Finally, evaluation in the composition course, regardless of the form it takes, is an opportunity to teach students that their ideas matter. Their ideas contribute to the complexity of our society and to their own personal identities, and as such, they should take pride in learning how to express these ideas clearly and vibrantly.
I understand that teachers of composition and writing on a university campus create their own community. I embrace my teaching philosophy as uniquely my own, and it’s my intent that it should contribute to the community of educators on my campus, as well as to the conversation created by their own teaching philosophies. This complex variety of teaching philosophies in a writing program ultimately inspires our students to initiate conversation among themselves about composition, culture, and education as they exit each instructor’s classroom.
Together, by fusing the blueprints of our varying philosophies and our students’ voices, we construct bustling, breathing communities of thinkers – like breathtaking skylines and cityscapes.