My teaching philosophy requires me to start from the beginning of my teaching experience. My time as an undergraduate writing tutor, gave me the ability to understand that, as a film major, learning to think, speak, and be a film- maker was a process of acquiring a “secondary Discourse” (Gee). In this way, with another secondary discourse, that of Writing Studies, it was clear that the meta-awareness of discourse I was acquiring was a useful lens with which examine the discourse of film, what Gee calls a “powerful literacy.” And so, in my years as a writing instructor, I have explored ways in which I could construct opportunities for students to acquire powerful literacies.
My initial efforts are found long ago in my Master’s thesis study of academic service-learning in first- year composition. In these courses, my students chose to work with one of roughly a dozen non-profit community agencies and organizations. My goal then, as now, was to create experiential learning opportunities in which students would juxtapose the academic writing they did in our course with that they did for and with the non-profits. In this way, they might come to understand how writing was organized by circumstance—valued within particular contexts and communities—and this would hopefully lead to the acquisition of meta-knowledge.
I continue this emphasis. For example, in my current first-year writing courses, I ask students to research writing in communities. For several years, I have used a writing-about-writing framework (I’m currently using Wardle and Downs’ textbook, Writing About Writing). In addition to students learning about Writing Studies concepts and theories, in English 101—the Fall requirement of Fisher’s two-course sequence—I ask students to research writing in their majors by interviewing professors and students, examining scholarly articles in that discipline, and locating any resources about writing in that discipline (e.g., handbooks and writing center websites). In 199, I have designed it in accordance with my interests and expertise, but as with 101, students research writing. In this case, writing in online communities.
My point with this narrative is that my teaching of digital and visual literacies my interests in helping students acquire powerful literacies by going beyond our classroom and its texts and genres. For example, in teaching Facebook to elders, students were forced to closely examine elements of Facebook most had never considered before. For instance, just what are Facebook’s privacy policies and how do these settings work? What are the conditions under which someone would choose to “mes- sage”someone else, post a “status update,” and “comment” on someone else’s status update? Anwering questions such as these required students to reflect on their experiences using Facebook and compare those experiences with their classmates. This knowledge, then, was instrumental in designing effective lessons for the elders. In addition, what did it mean when an elder tried to set up his profile and found that he could not add the year he started work at Kodak? We discovered that Facebook’s drop-down menu for occupations only goes as far back as 1951. Building on this example, we could discuss for whom Facebook was primarily designed. This kind of critical analy- sis is precisely what I value in a powerful literacy. Students clearly had more developed technical and rhetorical proficiencies than (all but one of) the elders with whom we worked, but by looking so closely at Facebook, students acquired the ability to critique their own experiences with this ubiquitous technology.
Students’ reactions to the project were overwhelmingly positive. Some built personal connections with the elders: “I thoroughly enjoyed this project, as a whole, and not only did I learn a heck of a lot more about Facebook than I had ever imagined, but I also made eight new friends, not to mention one really special friend in Helen. We will keep in touch.” Other students have used the experience to help them find jobs: “This project has already allowed me to talk about the ways I can articulate and teach technology to non-users. I recently applied to a couple of jobs that were looking for applicants with the ability to be proficient with technology and have experience working with users who might have limited technical knowledge.” This student learned how to shape his discourse for his audience context, a rhetorical skill we hope our students develop— a valuable workplace as well as life skill acquired through a project asking him to critically understand/engage a discourse concerning Facebook.
Be it interviewing a professor to demystify disciplinary conventions, studying writing in online communities, working with elders to help them learn Facebook, what I value as a writing teacher has been (and continues to be) for my students to acquire powerful literacies.
FACEBOOK FOR EVERYONE