The main goal of my teaching in Composition and Rhetoric is to give my students, at any level, the critical thinking skills and rhetorical tools to create and deliver a meaningful and effective composition. To that end, I design my courses to reflect a student-centered room, ultimately leading to a student-owned room. With my own research grounded in feminist rhetoric, digital rhetoric, and multimodal pedagogy, I encourage students to experiment with their own roles and interactions as composers in different spaces, as well as utilizing their rhetorical techniques and strategies from outside the classroom to transfer their existing composition skills of everyday life into the classroom.
My student-centered classroom begins with the arrangement of the desks into a circle, which I join. In this way, the focus does not stay on a single individual standing at the front of the room, but the layout of the room encourages an equal footing and investment for all participants. The conversation is an open, organic, respectful dialogue, where no one person guides the discussion and everyone contributes. Composition is thinking and creating critically, and in order to do so, we must begin by engaging in a discussion, not listening to me lecture. Students are responsible in class discussions to engage with their text, assignment, and classmates in the room.
Likewise, in my assignment designs, this focus on student engagement is critical. I provide an assignment topic for those in need of structure, but students are in no way limited to the prompt. They are free and encouraged to design their own topics, guided by whatever interests them, allowing their voice to come through in their composition. Students can also make rhetorical decisions in regards to the mode and media of their composition, taking into consideration the most effective arrangement and delivery for their meaning and purpose to reach a particular audience. These opportunities for students to decide the focus of discussion and their assignments leads to students ultimately having the option to design their course. I make the class syllabus with readings and units designed ahead of time; by mid-semester, however, I open up the final unit or few weeks of class for students to discuss and come to a consensus on what they want to work on. In this way, students take ownership of the room and guide their education, using me as a resource, rather than the sole owner of the classroom.
Aiming to equip my students for composing tools in multiple genres, I design each course with a heavy digital component and am prepared to teach courses online. For each course I teach, I make a WordPress blog for the class. As part of my role as the Instructor-blogger, I use this outlet for many purposes. I incorporate assignments, links to resources, and write blog posts for each update, as well as for tips and help with assignments. Each course has a university Blackboard or Canvas site with the same information, but by also taking this content outside of the university, I try to introduce students to multiple composing platforms with which to interact with our class community. On this site, I incorporate multimedia and multimodal posts, such as a Prezi on making a WordPress account and a step-by-step guide on using Vapor, taken to assist with assignments, which also serves to show students the composing potential and implementation of digital tools in an academic setting. The mode of my compositions changes to best suit the purpose of the post at hand.
As the semester progresses, my compositions change in tone, as well. Students’ familiarity with me allows me to maintain professionalism, while also acknowledging our classroom relationship in each post—presenting a joke, adding a smiley face, etc. Likewise, as part of students’ requirement in the course, they must create and post to their own blog sites and Twitter accounts. On these online forums, students are able to touch upon what they found interesting; question the text; take a moment to regroup thoughts prior to discussing them in class; draft early thoughts for their assignments; as well as communicate with each other and myself in a low stakes, familiar, and comfortable environment. Some students, moreover, might feel less inclined to talk in class, and can use this as their opportunity to “talk” about a text and participate and engage with the class. Initially, student posts start formal, where they seem to compose specifically for me. As the semester progresses and relationships develop, students begin to write tweets to each other, asking for help; posting links to articles that some might find helpful; posting pictures of themselves and the class for fun; and tweeting over breaks about their excitement to see each other. Students further take ownership of their online forums, using it for what they need rather than what I assign, and they shift their own roles from students to composers, operating in a realm where most of them are comfortable and knowledgeable.
Through this foundation of my pedagogy, which I enact at Montclair State University, I strive to inform my students’ perceptions of composing, showing that it can occur through multiple modes on multiple forums (from the spoken classroom, to the written paper, to the visual blog post and more), and to leave them with the rhetorical tools and confidence to create meaningful compositions.