I encourage my composition students to look beyond composition as words on page but also as a message through images, music, gifs, memes, and other accessible modes.
I think of myself as a guide.
Over the past four years I have taught mostly first-year students, and for many of them, living on their own for the first time is terrifying. If academia is a wilderness, then I will give them a compass and a map, and we can march through together for a short amount of time.
I worked with many professors and instructors as I made my way through higher education, and I see each of them as guides. One may have taught me how to build a fire, one might have taught me to build a shelter, and one may have shown me how to fish, but they each had a role to take me from one point to the next, each adding something new to what the last had taught me.
Being a guide means that I am showing the student the path, not dragging them through the forest. I strongly feel that the student is responsible for their education and their grade. They have to do the work. Part of ensuring this is I present them with a detailed syllabus and schedule so that students are aware of everything they must complete before the end of the semester. This places the responsibility of time management on the students. I also ask them to sign an Accountability Agreement at the beginning of the semester where they agree that if they have questions regarding assignments, grades or policies that they are responsible for contacting me or visiting me in Office Hours. I am responsible for reviewing the material and making sure they achieve the standards established by College Composition Program at Florida State University.
I believe that technology and teaching students how to navigate digital rhetoric is vital. On the first day of class, I walk my students through the process of setting up a class-specific Twitter account and an account on a free website builder program, (I prefer Wix). Both of these accounts are the backbone of what we compose over the course of the semester. All assignments and personal writing is posted on the Wix blog throughout the semester. This gives them experience building a website, and they understand the techniques of composing with the intent to reach large groups of people. This venue allows for the use of images and other media to convey ideas. Students also maintain a blog, and the ritual exercise creates more opportunities for low-stakes writing, giving them more practice and play with words without the pressure of being graded.
Additionally, the class Twitter page is a space where students can ask questions and share information with each other while also learning to maneuver in a public discourse platform.
In my time as a first-year composition professor, I have noticed that a good number of students in my classes are interested in majoring in science, technology, law, and medicine. I would say only 2% of my students have been aspiring creative writers. This means, they often do not see writing as a fun activity. Each of my assignments encourages them to look at what career track they plan to undertake or what topics most interest them. This way when I ask them to research a question, they are not slogging through a project they plan to close up in a drawer at the end of the semester.
I encourage my composition students to look beyond composition as words on the page but also as a message through images, music, gifs, memes, and other accessible modes. They can look at themselves as multi-media artists. This shakes students from their old habits of standardized timed essays. I want them to feel like project managers on their own televisions shows, online magazines, news outlets or spoken word performances. I am open to experimentation, but I want them to create each composition with a clear concept of their vision. This is why I want the student to write a process memo on the project.
My primary concern is whether the writing is effective. If their ideas are not being delivered in a clear manner, then the message will not reach the audience, thus making it useless.
Twice a semester, I require students to come to my office. Many times students will not attend office hours on their own, ask questions in class, or wait after class for guidance. Some don’t want to admit to the instructor they do not understand the assignment. In a one-on-one conference, the student is afforded the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and receive feedback. In the process of reviewing a paper together, the instructor can point out patterns and make sure the argument is on its way to be effective.
I hope that in my class, students feel free to propose radical ideas, make strong arguments, and participate in a respectful discourse which shows how the coursework applies to their lives. I also want to encourage discussion outside the classroom in as many venues as possible.