Having taught writing for 20 years in high schools, writing centers, university classrooms, and communities makes it difficult to generalize about my pedagogy. That said, a few fundamental strategies characterize my approach. They include:
Foregrounding primary research.
Historicizing writing publics helps students defamiliarize the present and ask important questions about power relations, changes in culture, old and new technologies, and writing processes. For this reason, I often ask students to work with primary source material by searching and browsing physical and digital archives in our libraries and the surrounding community. In my Self-Publishing course, for example, students begin the Tactile Proof unit by searching for an example of independent publishing and asking questions related to its origins, materiality, circulation, conflicts, audience, and significance. They then represent their findings by publishing a program for their classmates.
Building (slowly) toward multimodal/public engagement.
While my courses don’t always have a public dimension, I often try to engage students with audiences that are real using modes beyond the alphabetic. Sometimes this means asking writers to gift or read their writing to classmates, develop an oral history project, or work in groups to assess the usability of a lego project. But the bigger projects involve collaborating with outside stakeholders, especially libraries, using their resources and public presence to circulate writing that has a future beyond the classroom. This includes pairing students with children from the Somali-Bantu community (as my peer consultants did in Advanced Peer Consulting), remixing audio tracks from the public domain to make a short form radio program (as my students did for my take on Syracuse’s required research course), or considering the library as an amateur makerspace. This is predicated, in part, on an approach that Kristin Arola dubs “slow composition,” a practice of mindfulness that foregrounds “a consideration of the materials with which we compose, the relations between these objects, and our role in the creation of texts.” Often this happens using a blend of experimentation and reflection.
Using amateur texts for readings and analysis.
Perhaps influenced by DIY’s snotty anti-corporate stance, I often try to counterbalance the overwhelming amount of influence the culture industry has in our classes through textbooks and anthologies by introducing students to everyday writers and freely available resources, including each other. Part of this means asking them to order cheap print zines from independent distributors (“distros”) like Pioneer’s Press and Quimby’s of Chicago, but also posting their work on their blogs (not Blackboard), Twitter, and circulating printed copies of zines they made of their creative nonfiction.
Designing responsive syllabi.
Ever since I made my first WordPress course in 2012, I have designed nearly all subsequent syllabi using this platform. The advantages to this are many: it is adaptive, open source, and free; it produces a historical record of our work together; it allows us to more readily incorporate public tools and links; it boosts transparency; and — perhaps most importantly — makes me a more effective teacher of WordPress (a CMS that is used by more than 80% of the web). But my commitment to responsive syllabi goes beyond this particular interface. I often use synchronous-but-anonymous open Google Docs for midterm assessments, Google Forms for peer evaluation and surveys, and adjust our calendar based on student feedback — a strategy enabled by WordPress’s user-centered design.