I begin all my first-year composition syllabi, as well as my initial class meetings, with the same sentiment: Students entering my class are already writers, and they bring with them a wealth of composing knowledge. I strive to ensure that my classrooms remain inclusive spaces for all students to explore their passions and develop the literacies they will need to be successful in both their personal and professional lives. To cultivate this inclusive space, my teaching is marked by critical reflection, an engagement with multimodal learning, and is driven by passion and enthusiasm.
Part of critical reflection is a willingness to adapt, which I believe is crucial for any classroom to be successful. Every student comes to the class with their own learning style, approach, perspective, and life experiences. An inclusive classroom is a flexible one, one that creates opportunities and ways of engagement for all students. In my own classes, this flexibility might look like adapting assignments to fit specific needs of the class or bringing in additional materials to highlight key components. Almost always it means leveraging different modalities for classroom discussion; from small group think-pair-share exercises to collaborative visualizations of class concepts displayed in gallery walks, I employ different modes of participation to ensure that all students can participate. With my first-year composition students, I emphasize the importance of the changing nature of “writing,” opting for “composition,” which signals to students that 21st-century communication is more than a written, text-based product. Rather, composition can take many forms and designs, all of which I encourage my students to explore. I model this remixing of genres in my own teaching materials; for example, in some courses, I have designed infographic syllabi to demonstrate how information can be disseminated more effectively through different media. By rethinking a familiar genre like the syllabus, I model for students how they too might rethink or subvert more traditional genres in our class.
Incorporating multimodality in all aspects of my pedagogy is one way that I engage with the principles of universal design, which ensures multiple means of representation and engagement for all students. In discussions of audience, and the impact audience has on framing a message for writers, I ask students to consider how the content they post across various social media platforms differs based on their particular audiences. Using social media as a starting point for audience helps students ground the discussion in their own terms and perspectives, allowing them to take ownership over the discussion. This also further highlights their positionality as already writers by broadening their conceptions of writing beyond the classroom. I have used blogs in the past to initiate discussions about grammar and copy-editing; students wrote blog posts about specific grammatical conventions, and included multimedia, a definition of the concept, and revision strategies. In another instance, I asked students to collaboratively compose their own satirical research projects modeled after “How Is This Still A Thing?” skits from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. In these assignments, students created short videos or presentations in Prezi or PowerPoint to share their group’s research; one group went on to win the UMass Writing Program’s Best Text Contest with their project. Reframing argumentative research through satire, as well as asking for multimodal compositions in lieu of more traditional text-based research papers, helped students critically reflect on the key relationship between mode and purpose, while also fostering their rhetorical awareness.
I believe that successful pedagogy is about more than content and activities. It requires a level of passion, and enthusiasm. I encourage students to use my class as a space to explore and develop their passions, whether related to their majors or future careers or something more personal, while also challenging them to think about how they might use composition and design to engage with their passions and ideas more deeply. The classroom is not just a space for my students’ passions, either. I strive to express my enthusiasm for teaching, course material, and the combination of both in every class. I believe students have a more beneficial experience when they see genuine care, respect, and fervor for subject material, as well as for themselves: as writers, as critical thinkers, as people. I work to ensure this genuineness and respect is manifest in my classes.
Teaching remains an iterative process, requiring continuous education, collaboration, and support. I actively seek this level of development both formally and informally. From participating in on campus professional development opportunities, regional or national conferences, or online courses centered on inclusive teaching principles, at the fore of my own philosophy is a desire to continue learning and evolving as a teacher.