I see my classroom as a space for socially responsive exploration. In my teaching, I attempt to hold up Malea Powell’s (2006) view that “[t]eaching is a responsibility, not an opportunity for me to show you how cool I am by pretending to waive the authority that the institution grants me.” Instead, I use the privileged positions that I hold to encourage students to confront assumptions in modes of being and knowing implicated in writing and writing instruction. I invite students to engage in questions of assessment alongside me through an iterative and negotiated contract grading, and hold questions of the role of a cultural rhetorical understanding of writing as the central focus of how we interrogate texts and their own writing. In this, I invite students to make conscious rhetorical decisions about how they compose themselves in their compositions through choices of grammars or modalities, attempt to make explicit the ways that larger systems create constraints on writing practices, and negotiate the role that we all play in developing the community of the classroom.
I position ideas of multimodality as critical within my pedagogy as a generative inroad to understanding writing practices, cultural systems around writing, and developing projects. By not emphasizing modalities as product-oriented, I invite students to make agentive decisions about the modalities employed throughout a writing process. We explore, through these decisions, the limitations and affordances of composition technologies, the way that writing participates and circulates differently in publics, and how the modalities used inform how we understand our writing. In a section of a research-intensive first-year writing course, I’ve asked my students to create hacks of their research interests that were material (such as toys or board games), public (such as flashmobs or silent protests), or digital (such as website remixes or choose-your-own-adventure games). In doing so, students had to consider how research practices were communicated and deployed with specific attention to modalities and how these modalities created conditions for public engagement. In reflection and class discussions, students articulated connections between the deploying of their composing technologies and the other rhetorical choices made during their composing process. In this, students became makers: makers of texts, makers of their education, and makers of their sense of self.
The projects I assign tend toward enacting rhetorical performance around concerns for advocacy, activism, and social justice. In sections of an introductory first-year writing course at multiple institutions, I’ve asked students to locate, articulate, and develop materials for a localized advocacy campaign: while not every piece they compose in developing these materials generates public circulation, students will have engaged in a public enactment and have a ready-at-hand advocacy campaign within their local communities. At a university where Understanding Rhetoric (a graphic novel textbook) was used across the first-year writing program, I asked my students to make audio files of chapters for use within the program to address issues of accessibility for this highly visual text. Students were asked to compose with multiple technologies and to think critically about the transformation that occurs when texts are (re)composed across different modalities.
Discussions of research in my research-intensive first-year writing courses involve discussing how meaning and knowing is produced and participates publicly. In this way, I ask my students to think about methods and inquiry as complex conversations and confront answer-seeking assumptions about research. Methods employed within my classroom are themselves presented as conversations interpolated with research questions and our embodied ways of knowing. My attempt here is to emphasize a rhetorical approach to the knowledges constructed by my students that is inquiry-driven and participatory.