Teaching statement

In After Pedagogy, Paul Lynch distinguishes pedagogy from teaching, arguing that the former follows from the latter: “Pedagogy is not what we do before we enter the classroom or even while we’re there. It is what we do after we leave” (xvii), meaning that we should reflect upon our engagement with students and their writing to arrive at a practical wisdom that comes from revisiting and articulating its complexity. Having taught writing in high schools, universities, makerspaces, libraries, and writing centers over the last eighteen years, I believe that effective teaching comes from one’s ability to continuously account for this complexity. In order to do so, however, this approach observes the wider, dynamic ecology of a teaching experience – the curriculum, instruction, and assessment, of course, but also the personal successes and struggles of teachers and learners (spoken and unspoken), their classrooms, campus or institutional culture, the changing exigencies of our publics, and more. It shifts the emphasis from one particular part of a learning ecology — student achievement — to the experience of teaching itself, and as a result modifies the more common perspective that good teaching can be developed into a predictive program or system for future teaching.

In this way, it is necessary for pedagogies to move. They are attuned by the scenes in which writing is situated – scenes that account for students and institutions, of course, but also space and geography, history and culture, and materials and technologies. Thus, I have been drawn to movements in composition studies that reframe the writing process as multiplicities of communicative activity and texts as assemblages of composition. As I experiment with curricula, deliver differentiated instruction, and create toolkits for assessment that redistribute power in the classroom, I aim to foreground opportunities for students to engage these scenes in meaningful ways and reflect upon them throughout. More specifically, by asking student-writers to (1) compose with the available materials within and around them, (2) use those materials to assemble innovative, multimodal compositions, and (3) circulate those compositions for various publics, I enact what I call a do-it-yourself (or DIY) composition pedagogy. A DIY composition pedagogy proceeds from three values that are influenced by DIY culture — a culture rooted in equal parts punk anarchism, feminism, queer studies, and maker/hacker communities.

Value 1: Scenes of composing encourage writers to make-do with the available tools and materials at hand.

This value assumes that writers begin with an account of the local sites, sources, tools, and spaces, as well as their own individual strengths and available resources, which serve as a foundation for composition. This includes thinking regionally, considering the unique histories, vernaculars, and institutions that surround the classroom and attempting to establish meaningful relationships with them. Students in my classes have worked with personal, community-based, and university archives, for example, as they attempt to make sense of the people and histories around them. From their encounters with these materials — whether they are detritus, ephemera, scholarly texts, digitized recordings, or embodied voices — students assemble and create something using a range of resources available. These often include laptops and smartphones, of course, but also “old media” like copy machines and phonographs. This value also makes moves to account for writers’ most intimate materials – their languages, dialects, literacy sponsors, identities, and traumas. Hence, a classroom philosophy influenced by DIY culture sees writers as individuals using the resources from their personal histories and environments in their pursuit to produce a text that has a past and a future.

Value 2: Scenes of composing emphasize ethical, critical, and participatory production.

Although “do-it-yourself” might imply the absence of instruction, the reality is that learning in such scenes happens through intense participation and socialization; whether through trial and error, direct apprenticeship, or a colloquial cultivation of local knowledge, DIY approaches to meaning-making are, above all, interactive and collaborative. I’ve found such participation to be most profound and authentic when students are encouraged to explore how the spaces in which their writing is composed or shared impact their agency and the agency of others. In introducing them to WordPress or Creative Commons, for example, I purposefully forward accessible technologies that afford different terms of use than the more proprietary spaces or codes of Twitter, Google, or Apple. Relatedly, this value emphasizes that ownership should not be dependent upon authorization, but rather the origins of authorship should come from a place of genuine exigence, where writers to are in touch with their own critiques, desires, and failures, and to build and circulate dynamic texts using certain tools, circuits, and channels. It is in this sense that writing should also be self-directed. I know I’ve succeeded when students in my classes are taught not only how to create their own assignments, but how to set realistic goals for that work, weigh the affordances and limitations of certain interfaces and networks for their projects, and assess that work through honest and deliberative reflection.

Value 3: Scenes of composing should produce encounters with a variety of publics.

Publics are defined by the kinds of communicative systems that stitch them together. As such, engaging students in authentic writing experiences means connecting them with real audiences who read real texts, while also observing how those publics use those texts to contest and construct different views of reality. Students in some of my classes, for example, use web literacies to analyze and fact-check information and images as they are happening, drawing from concepts like rhetorical circulation to actively track down sources, read sites laterally (rather than closely), learn how to document their processes through richly-designed WordPress blogs, and develop toolkits of counter-technologies that are necessary in a post-truth era. Students also study the history and tactics of counterpublics, such as student activists or radical presses, in order to get a sense of the ways in which the struggle for public voice is really a struggle for the available means of persuasion. And at the same time, students are encouraged to publish themselves — to imagine, design, and compose living and breathing texts that speak to their own realities. Whether these are showcased at events like our self-curated zine fests or through websites we collaboratively build across semesters, I want my students to think of writing and composing as an opportunity to reimagine, convene, and build new publics and counterpublics.

Ultimately, at the heart of my teaching is a desire to convene — to parlay the energies of do-it-yourself culture into the classroom so that the drive to write is contagious. I want to demystify authorship so that the rhetorical goal of composition is re-composition. I want students to know that their histories and stories are worth telling, that there are platforms out there for composing those narratives, and that there are publics out there that need to hear them so they can produce their own as well.