Since literacy is a social practice, students must be active participants in discourse communities to develop literacy skills. As a teacher of writing and writing teachers, I believe that full participation in discourse requires not only the development of writing practices, but also reciprocal reading practices. My writing instruction accordingly puts reading and writing practices in conversation.
My writing instruction begins with teaching students to engage critically with a writer’s ideas and to “read like writers,” understanding how writers respond to their rhetorical situations and making choices to meet the needs of their audience and their own purposes for writing. I ask my students to write their way into these essential reading practices through annotation assignments. As one of my students observed in an end-of-course reflection, “Annotation makes you a participant in a text, not a bystander.” Indeed, I argue that annotation facilitates conversation between reader, writer, and text and reading and writing practice.
In my courses, annotation is not merely a private practice; my students and I also share the digital margins of texts in a practice called social annotation. My students read their peers’ annotations and build on the shared ideas by asking questions, marking helping annotations, and amplifying peer comments with their own interpretations. I then use the visible, marginal conversations to design lessons which build on their knowledge and draw attention to ideas that might otherwise be overlooked.
In the same way that I view writing and reading as conversation, so do I view teaching and learning. My students to annotate a draft of our course syllabus on the first day of class. I invite them to add their questions, comments, previous experiences, and personal reactions. We are then able to address the goals and experiences of each class and to put those expectations in conversation with the department and university goals for the course. We repeat this process with each major assignment, using their annotations to revise the plans to meet our shared goals as the semester unfolds.
Still, I do not want to teach my students to participate only in classroom-centered writing work. Instead, I want them to find space to participate in ongoing academic conversations and to extend that academic discourse to public audiences. To fully participate in these conversations, students must learn to write not for me, their instructor, but for other audiences. Like many writing teachers, I field many questions from my students about how long a paper should be or how many sources they should cite. My students sometimes seem disappointed by my response, especially at the beginning of the term. “That’s a really good question,” I reply and direct students back to their readings to describe how the authors chose to write the model texts we study and how they and their peers, understand the effectiveness of those choices. Turning back to our shared reading and annotation helps us to meet one of my core instructional goals: developing reading strategies that enable students to write well for others beyond our classroom—in their majors, careers, and personal lives.
Visitors to that last meeting of my first-year writing class would find students workshopping their final assignments. They might be greeted by the opening bars of an orchestral composition surging into the room, a group of students crowding around a phone to watch a new TikTok video, and handwritten letters addressed to Flint City Hall lying open on a table. At first glance, the scene might not look much like an academic writing class. But if the visitors were to pause in wandering around the room, they would hear my students asking, “How has your target audience changed?” and noting, “I discovered there were 4 genres of videos. And mine is definitely a sub-type of one of those.” By the end of each semester, my students have learned to use their reading and annotation to adapt their writing to the expectations of their audience and to discuss the expectations embedded within the genres in which they write not as rules, but as possibilities for their own choices. Their writing skills exceed those which I could explicitly teach.
It is this same interest in exploring possible choices which guides my own research agenda. Just as my students revise their writing to meet the needs of their own audiences, I continually revise my instruction to meet the needs of my students and share my learning with others in the profession.
I seek out opportunities for my students to publicly share their work. As a literature teacher, I co-founded our school’s literary magazine and helped my students to present their writing at the 2016 Native American Literature Symposium. Additionally, I collaborated with my pre-service teachers to present our reflections on blogging.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
ENG 225: Academic Argumentation
EDUC 440: Methods of Teaching English