As with research, teaching in Rhetoric and Composition tends to be informed by diverse critical perspectives and methods of investigation, many of which consider the social or political implications of higher education. My understanding of “teaching” includes not only the obvious activities—designing and delivering curriculum, supervising internships, directing undergraduate and graduate research, and mentoring new teachers—but also less obvious activities that support good pedagogical relationships among different units in the university and between universities and their surrounding communities. To that end, I remain consistently committed to several core principles in teaching.
I view my role in the classroom as mentoring learners to cultivate the critical capacities they need to engage smartly in civic and academic contexts, where a “critical capacity” is a rhetorical competency that combines philosophy, theory and craft (Fleming, “Rhetoric as a Course of Study,” 1998). I like to help students observe, converse with, and recreate the theories underlying how they read, write, learn, and undertake longer investigative projects. Often, this means that my courses explicitly model critical investigation and enable students to practice information literacy by relying on multiple feedback mechanisms that position them as researchers. I tend to scaffold their semester-length projects, embed information literacy instruction throughout the course, and provide a low-stakes blogging space for students to mature as public writers and thinkers. In addition, I provide extensive lists of “Resources” as testing grounds for the habits and attitudes of inquiry relevant to each course, and I schedule individual and group explorations of these resources so that students may realize their relevance to the topics and goals of the course. My undergraduate students often remark that they have a better sense of how to organize knowledge by question, problem, or goal, while my graduate students often remark that they feel more equipped to think about their own interventions in a particular discipline, or their own professional development as teachers of that discipline.
Many of my courses support civic activism or involve cross-disciplinary collaboration, which means I generally teach argumentation as public discourse and writing as social action and, where possible, include service- or community-based learning at archives or non-profit sites. I have found that designing curriculum around civic aims and extracurricular partnerships enhances the intellectual outcomes of any course, helping students become more strongly empathetic observers of texts, people, and the world. In 2009 and 2011, two of these courses were featured in an Innovative Teaching and Learning showcase at Indiana University. In 2012, I received an inaugural Service-Learning Faculty Award for my commitment to making public activism a natural outgrowth of undergraduate students’ intellectual work at IU. Relatedly, these core principles often lead me to organize co- or extra-curricular symposia, at departmental and campus levels. In 2010, I worked with Jennifer Meta-Robinson to facilitate a campus-wide screening and panel discussion of The Eleventh Hour to support the university’s Sustain.ability themester; in 2011, I organized a Culbertson Lecture Series panel and discussion on “Translingual Literacy and U.S. College Composition” (with Paul Matsuda, Bruce Horner, and Min-Zhan Lu); and in 2013, I worked with Trinyan Mariano to facilitate a cross-departmental discussion on “21st Century Literacies” (with Richard Miller).
I frequently employ the use of physical archives or digital collections and repositories as sites for critical inquiry, and I frequently ask students to showcase their work for an audience broader than themselves in formats ranging from works-in-progress to formal symposia. For the undergraduate classroom, this often involves asking students to reflect on their intellectual growth over the semester by constructing their critical portfolios as archives of resources—combining their own writings and multimodal projects with other artifacts of their learning throughout the course. In some courses, it may also involve incorporating an archival processing project at the university’s archives or special collections. For the graduate classroom, this involves asking students to perform distillations not only of their final projects, but also of their explorations using online archives and tools. Frequently, I will ask seminar students to simulate a research network forum among themselves and a small audience of invited faculty and guests, engaging one another in questions related to methodology. In Spring 2017, students in my “Women in the Archives, Vandals in the Stacks” course (an English honors seminar) showcased their processing projects at FSU Special Collections & Archives.