Year Awarded: 2015
College of Arts & Humanities
Writing & Rhetoric
Students often tell me--openly, and sometimes proudly--that they hate writing. I like these students a lot. They talk about writing as though it's something they just cannot do, as if writing were a talent like being able to wiggle your ears or lick your elbow. Sometimes they tell quieter, sadder stories, too, stories about times when they thought they'd written something great that earned them a D, or when they stopped trying because they couldn't figure out a teacher's expectations. At the center of all these stories are feelings of personal inadequacy: at some point, someone gave these students the sense that they were "bad" at writing. I see it as my first job as a writing teacher to help these students change their narratives about their experiences as writers. This starts with how feedback and revision work in my classes. A draft that isn't fully complete or successful isn't seen as a failure, but rather as part of a longer writing process. Students in my classes have plenty of opportunities to test out strategies and ideas, assess how things went, and then improve.
I also try to really listen to what students are saying in their writing. That sounds simple, but every semester students express surprise that I'm actually interested in what they're writing about and not just the form. I see responding to a piece of writing as more than reading it to find and explain what's wrong; instead, feedback is a conversation involving the writer, his or her classmates, and myself. My classes are based around this sort of group inquiry. I want students to recognize that writing conventions and values are socially constructed in a wide variety of situations. Students can learn by hearing from their classmates and reflecting on their own writing values. The next step is to look beyond the classroom, so students also investigate the ways other people use writing and then share this new knowledge with their classmates.
Before I started teaching, I thought my goal would be to convince as many students as possible to love writing as much as I do. My students quickly disabused me of this notion, and, frankly, the world can only sustain so many writing teachers. But students can learn to think like writers. That means understanding that writing isn't based on some innate ability individuals either do or not have, but rather a process that can work for them if they let it. Students won't leave my class ready to write in every situation they might encounter, but I hope they leave feeling like writers who can take ownership of their learning in order to become exactly the writers they want to be.