My courses seek to cultivate in students a lifelong relationship with the principles of academic discourse: intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and thoughtful articulation of the discoveries these bring. To that end, I base my rhetoric and composition pedagogy on three active principles: the building of a discourse community of active discussion; a focus on cultivating the art of seeking; and an emphasis on precision and clarity. These principles behave differently in different contexts, but remain stable at core, and guide nearly all my decisions as an instructor. It is my belief that their application encourages and empowers my students as they become the thinkers, writers, and citizens they will be.
Like my literature and creative writing courses, my composition classes build from vigorous discussion, revolving around weekly readings, brief presentations, and frequent low-risk writing exercises. We consider readings from literary, social, and craft perspectives, but I also encourage students to interrogate their own responses to texts and assignments. I believe that original thought often results from analytically investigating one’s own reaction to a text, so I challenge students to write and talk through their trouble-spots. Similarly, I pour significant energy into developing students’ interrogative skills: honing the art of asking meaningful questions, and cultivating the curiosity to keep digging until they reach new understanding. Class discussions model this type of investigation, but I also create pointed essay prompts and hold guided in-class writing days as students begin essay assignments. The result is that students begin to confront questions such as why inquiry is a useful challenge, and how the edge of understanding presents a worthwhile opportunity for exploration. Finally, I utilize writing groups, individual meetings, and essay comments to spotlight the importance of precision and clarity of language. Moreover, we focus in class on specific moments of conflict in public discourse—political rhetoric or public debates and arguments—and explore the importance of precise language in both expression and understanding.
Ultimately, what I hope to encourage in my students is a sense of an ownership of their own intellectual work: the belief that academic discourse (engagement with a community, seeking of depth and discovery, and clear expression of what’s found) is not just possible for them, but satisfying. That is, I hope to make them lifelong participants in the conversation.