Teaching Composition (Eng 402)

This graduate course at Illinois State University is required for all teaching assistants assigned to English 101 or 101.10, the first-year writing course. It is a theoretical course about the teaching of writing.

semesters & syllabi

  • Fall 2008 (2 sections; 12 Masters & PhD students enrolled in my section)
  • Fall 2009 (2 sections; 10 Masters & PhD students enrolled in my section)

The first time I taught this required course, I created a syllabus that addressed a different composition pedagogy each week, building from historical options (e.g., current-traditional, expressivist, process, etc.) to more recent additions to the field (e.g., feminist, critical, multimodal, etc.). I chose not to use the traditional anthology for this class because it lacked any readings about more current theories, especially on visual rhetoric, multimodality, or teaching with technology, so I added readings relevant to those topics to each week, as appropriate. (I did this because students teach in computer-assisted classrooms and otherwise they wouldn’t get any theory on teaching in those spaces.) In addition to the theoretical/historical focus, students studied the professional aspects of being a rhetoric and composition scholar, to give them a look at how different fields (since only two or three of the 12 students had a rhet/comp emphasis) enact their professional goals. Students reviewed journals and textbooks, did brief ethnographies on a blog or conference, led class discussions, created short videos about their or others’ writing processes, and drafted teaching philosophies. I was happy with the course, but the evaluations showed otherwise. I realized, after the fact, the level of buy-in needed from students in a required course outside their field. (Apparently, according to others who have taught this course, such reactions to 402 are not unusual.)

The second time I taught this required course, we had hired a new Writing Program Administrator, and she and I decided to write a shared syllabus. It was completely different than my previous syllabus, with a focus on genre studies, which helped us rethink the goals of ISU’s writing program. The assignments were shared across the two sections and included discussions on a shared ning (online learning space with characteristics of a social networking space); ethnographies of others’ writing classes to study the physical, material, and ideological ways writing is taught; group and individual manifestos about ways to change the current writing program practices at ISU; short praxis-based articles for possible publication in one of two scholarly venues; and proposals (based on manifestos) for enacting change in the ISU writing program.

teaching challenge

  • My evaluations for the Fall 2008 semester were not as good as I am used to, and many of the students commented that the homework I assigned seemed more like busy work to them, although I had discussed at length during several classes how that work was professional development and would help them see the kinds of scholarship rhetoric and composition scholars often undertake. For the Fall 2009 class, the new Writing Program Administrator (Joyce Walker) and I are team-teaching our sections with a new syllabus and new assignments that we hope will reinvigorate the writing program at ISU. Compared to last year, overall there are less assignments that focus on professionalization in rhetoric and composition since we decided that the point of 402 should be about the teaching of writing, broadly construed, and not just how rhet/comp scholars engage with the teaching of writing. We did, however, keep some assignments that were similar to those I assigned last year, such as the short articles, but these assignments are pitched as performances of pedagogical scholarship, which is appropriate for all students in our program, rather than on service to the field.
  • In Fall 2009, the only challenge that this class has faced is an issue of classroom space. The 3-hour course was originally split between two classrooms (50 minutes in the seminar room, two hours in the computer lab), which did not work with the open discussion style of this class. After looking around, Tara Reeser (Publications Unit Director) offered us the Publications Unit lab, which has suited us extremely well (even though it displaces Tara from her office because of its location to the lab). It doesn’t have enough computers for all my students this semester, but it does have excellent wireless access, which Stevenson (where we normally meet) does not, so some students bring their laptops. The challenge here is recognizing that English studies courses need technologically rich spaces in most cases, and that we need more of these spaces on campus. I hope to work with the department’s Associate Chair to resolve this issue in the coming years.

teaching innovation
The Fall 2009 semester was the first time I’ve co-taught a course (even though we each have our own section that meets at different times). Dr. Joyce Walker and I co-created the syllabus, readings, and assignments, and we’ve visited each others’ classes to meet the students and discuss assignment options with them. This is also the first time I’ve used a ning in a class, with both sections sharing the same class syllabus/blog and ning so that they can “meet” each other virtually throughout the week and share ideas across sections. It has worked seamlessly because both Joyce and I have administrative control in the blog and ning, so we add users ourself. (This would be difficult, if not impossible, in Blackboard, while the ning allows us the same, if not better, features and usability. Plus, using the ning and blog (both of which are open-access and free) allow us to show students technologies that they can use in their own teaching.

accompanying materials