I see my pedagogy shaped by two major streams: 1) my experience as an academic researcher, and 2) my involvement in interdisciplinary writing, deriving from my graduate-school experiences as assistant director of a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative and my current involvement in teaching Professional and Technical Writing for students in majors from across the university. As a scholar, writing is part of how I think, allowing me to work through ideas and make connections as well as prompting me to respond to others—to the comments of my colleagues, reviewers, and to other texts. Writing instruction, then, becomes about teaching an approach to thinking as well as a way to communicate. Through teaching, research, and administration, I have become attuned to differences and similarities of reader expectations across disciplines, to differing notions of what constitutes effective communication. From this perspective, writing instruction revolves around genre and audience.
I see the importance of teaching genre awareness—and its concomitant parts of audience needs and expectations, the importance of context, the role of technology and visual design, and how all those elements interplay and shift to bring about changes in genre conventions—affirmed again and again. In upper-division writing courses such as Introduction to Professional and Technical Writing (ENG 300) and Advanced Composition (ENG 301), I see the act of practicing writing in various genres for professional situations as empowering students. I see it make writing begin to work for students who are strong researchers and thinkers but previously didn’t consider themselves good writers. Studying genre variations and then practicing them—with time to try out new styles and approaches, make mistakes, revise, receive feedback, and revise again—gives students the confidence and a flexible frame within which to share what they know from other classes or from their research in meaningful, audience-accessible ways. I find that many juniors and seniors experience a gap between the writing skills they developed in First Year Composition and the writing they see in their upper-division major courses or during internships. In courses like ENG 300, my attention to genre not as a set of static rules but as malleable, user-driven conventions, bridges the gap between their first-year rhetorical skills and the writing situations they find themselves in as advanced students and young professionals. With the challenges I see these students facing, as a teacher of First Year Composition myself, I aim to provide first-year students with a strong foundation in rhetoric, both for communicating with others and to make their own knowledge and meanings. I want students to think deeply about audience and purpose and to know what questions to ask and cues to look for when they encounter an unfamiliar writing situation. I hope to give them that foundation for later writing focused and writing-intensive courses to build upon.
Leading a successful writing course involves more than teaching ways to reach audiences; it also requires building classroom environments where students feel comfortable taking chances with their writing and thinking. I build an inclusive classroom through a universal design approach that supports diverse learners. For example, some students may be less outspoken during discussion or group work, or may have difficulty writing and commenting during in-class pre-writing and peer-review sessions. To welcome these students’ contributions, I include more opportunities for asynchronous participation via class forums, shared Google documents, and course blogs. Such design choices benefit all my students, and in their end-of-semester evaluations they have commented on enjoying and valuing these multiple opportunities to communicate and share ideas. To welcome international L2 students, I include alternative examples to culturally-specific cases mentioned in assignments and handouts; again, this practice benefits everyone in the class, reducing chances of misunderstanding.
My focus on genre and audience, along with the use of universal design principles, helps students develop an understanding of the meaning-making potential of words and of their own ability to shape perceptions of themselves, others, and the world.