I bring my enthusiasm for learning into the classroom, where I delight in experimenting pedagogically. One of the reasons I became a teacher is that each course and each group of students presents its own unique challenges and rewards. Pedagogical experimentation therefore becomes a necessity because there is no single practice that guarantees successful learning for all students. I maintain flexibility in my teaching practices so that course assignments and classroom activities can be tailored to meet the needs of each class and, as much as possible, each individual student. I was inspired by my own teachers to pursue my interest in women’s literature and fairy tales into graduate school and beyond, and I want to inspire my students to similarly explore and pursue their ambitions and interests. Accordingly, my role in the classroom is that of guide and facilitator as I strive to encourage a passion for learning while also teaching my students effective written communication and analytical thinking. To achieve these goals, student engagement, active learning, and reflection are central to my teaching strategy.
I use untraditional texts in my courses that meet general education composition requirements to engage English majors and non-majors alike. For instance, in my basic composition courses, I introduced a fairy-tale theme to make, as one student wrote, the “otherwise dry subject matter [of composition] engaging and useful.” Such a theme united students, as all students are familiar with the fairy-tale genre in some manner, especially with the fairy tale’s increasing prevalence in adult popular culture. After reading fairy tales and fairy-tale scholarship, students considered the generic elements of the fairy tale and composed their own original fairy tale before entering the critical discussion through argument and analysis. In doing so, students were able to use the genre to think and write critically on such topics as racism, gender roles, pedagogy and children’s literature, the traumatic effects of war, and historical concerns such as the role of fairy tales in Nazi Germany.
I similarly brought my interest in the figure of the femme fatale into my introduction to fiction course, in which students read texts from Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) to Gone Girl (2012) as they were introduced to literary analysis. While I expected students to enjoy Gone Girl and the shorter texts, I was surprised to find my non-major students became absorbed in the complexity of the long and dense Victorian novel, Lady Audley’s Secret. This untraditional Victorian text acted as a gateway to literary appreciation for my students, and most of them chose to write their final research paper on this text.
My students learn through practice, as they frequently work together via class discussion, small-group work, and peer-review workshops. When I taught remedial grammar at Rasmussen College, much of our class time was spent composing and then collectively evaluating and correcting sentences. In more advanced classes, I similarly employ thesis-writing workshops and other group activities. Such group work, especially when combined with my use of course wikis and discussion boards, promotes the creation of a class community and an easy and frequent sharing of ideas. My emphasis on reflection enhances learning and better enables conscious skill transference. Because I stress active learning, reflection is essential for students to become aware of their decision-making and learning processes in order to review, modify, and/or communicate their needs to instructors. I incorporate reflective activities throughout the semester, from reflective cover letters accompanying assignments to in-class activities encouraging project planning so students can make conscious decisions regarding what steps they need to take in order to complete the project successfully. I further enhance reflection by highlighting a recursive writing process via the scaffolding of assignments. I want my students to think of writing as a series of conscious decisions they are making in order to influence and persuade their readers. Writing therefore becomes a transferable skill as well as a personal challenge, as students learn to negotiate the conventions of various genres and navigate the requirements of different assignments. In the emphasis on a series of decisions, writing also becomes an active process of decision-making. Successfully written papers require strategic revision and we discuss methods of deciding what to keep in one’s writing, what to change, and what to leave out as students progress through their projects.
To urge my students to think critically about not only the course subject but also their role as students, I have them participate in their own learning through a guided decision-making process. As the semester progresses, majority-rule student votes dictate much of our class time, whether in terms of how an activity will be arranged (individuals, pairs, etc.) to whether students determine peer review and/or instructor conferences would be most helpful to their completion of a project. I also have employed a student-generated grading rubric, which compels students to become more aware of project expectations through the evaluation and prioritization of the required elements of the assigned project.
The practical application of reflection is also necessary to my success as an instructor. I request and then implement student feedback throughout the semester to make the class meet the needs of each particular group of students. I enjoy pedagogical experimentation, and I have enrolled in three teaching practicums as well as an extensive seminar on online teaching in order to develop new and improved teaching practices. Each class offers its own challenges, and I enjoy meeting those challenges. Moreover, I find it extremely fulfilling to see how my students have progressed throughout the semester in their abilities to think critically, reflect, analyze, argue, write, and read. This sense of fulfillment is only surpassed when my students leave my classroom with a new enthusiasm for reading, writing, and/or learning. One psychology major made my day when she wrote me an email thanking me “for an amazing class and for reminding [her] just how great it is to get wrapped up in a book.”