I heartily accept the motto that writing is a process of self-discovery. Deep thinkers write their way toward understanding and generating meaning from what they see, read, hear, and experience—I feel that as a teacher it is my responsibility to foster this sense of discovery in my writing classrooms. Further, I believe that both reading and writing are processes of self-discovery: we truly learn more about ourselves and our relative positions in social groups—ranging from the smaller family units that make up our primary discourse to broader civic units that make up our secondary discourses—through reading and writing. Reading, writing, and an acquisition of literacy in these various discourse communities enables students gain the power to position themselves within conversations that happen in those discourse communities so that they may communicate with confidence their views all while being aware of the shared values and beliefs that compose who their audience is. Furthermore, reading and writing also become processes of understanding the views of others’ in relation to the views of the thinker; thus, I encourage my students to seek first to listen to the texts we read—to find common ground with them and then to respond to them in the context of their own views. My students take an active role in their learning during our processes of reading and writing, so they soon see me not as a conduit to hidden branches of knowledge but as a invested collaborator in their own learning wherein they are empowered to plant their own trees and harvest their own fruit in light of whatever their academic goals might be. In short: I am a constructivist, and I regularly sow in the minds of my students that reading and writing are tools that they will use throughout the university and throughout life, and the greatest part of my labor in convincing my students the truth of this is two-fold: I make reading and writing relevant to their own interests and goals; and I let them use reading and writing to help figure out what their goals are to begin with.
In my first year composition classes, students deconstruct their own attitudes and assumptions about social and cultural issues through reading, writing, language, and discussion, and this includes their attitudes and assumptions about what reading and writing is. They are learning the necessary skills to start their personal statement writer service. They learn that often times, attitudes and assumptions about issues in the public sphere are often handed down to them through their primary and early secondary discourse communities. As university students, however, my students learn to question their inherited attitudes and assumptions and to look at new ideas with a mindset that is curious, inquisitive, and open to new possibilities. In acquiring a new secondary discourse—namely the discourse of academia—they learn that good readers and good writers become good by doing reading and writing. This, in my view, makes strong moves toward undermining the precarious paradigm that good writing merely means demonstrating formal rule acquisition. In essence, writing is a performance of thinking that takes place in a social context, and my students experience this through every major writing prompt in my curriculum: they discover that writers write when they’re compelled to respond to something; their responses have an audience; their audience has certain needs they need to be aware of; their audience has a chance to accept the truth-value of their responses if they address the needs of their audience; and their responses actually matter in the world beyond the writing classroom and their English teacher.
My attitude for collaborative learning and having an awareness of one’s position within their various discourse communities grows out of my time as a reading and writing tutor at Fresno City College, a campus among campuses in terms of ethnic and cultural diversity. Often tutoring students of different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds who were all taking the same composition courses as each other, I was espoused to the notion of looking at issues from a wide variety of perspectives. My time as a reading and writing tutor allowed me to frequently work one-on-one with students whose backgrounds differed from my own in a variety of ways, and I can say truthfully that they taught me just as much as I taught them: they helped me realize my own position in social constructs along with my own attitudes and assumptions about societal and global issues. In helping me be aware of my own primary and secondary discourses, they enabled me to critique those discourses and truly unpack my own attitudes and assumptions about societal and cultural issues. In a sense, this multi-cultural experience is what I want to give back to my students as their teacher.
I generally facilitate this approach to learning through my writing prompts which in truth serve as both reading and writing prompts; this helps my students see reading and writing as inextricably linked processes, and it helps them be aware of and enter into a conversation of ideas about a broad topic; therefore, they begin to enter the genre of scholarly, academic writing by treating their writing as a critical response to what other people are saying about their topic. For example, the penultimate unit of my English 10 course introduces my students into a conversation about culture, race, and ethnicity in the United States. In reading a selection of texts from a variety of authors, I ask students to summarize the views of what those authors are saying within this topic. Once students discover the specific branch of the overall conversation they wish to know more about and eventually join, they learn research skills that will be expected of them during the rest of their time at the university. They continue on this track that sparks their initial interest by doing further independent research all while gaining literacy in issues important to 21st century America, academic discourse, and scholarly research. Some students choose to focus on economic issues, some on social issues, some on political issues: it is truly up to them, and making those decisions, to me, is just an important of a process as is the production of the final essay. The readings for the unit and the discussions we generate in class allow for a wide variety of potential points of focus in order for them to construct a conversation of shared ideas and for them to respond to those ideas. Most importantly, this entire process does not neglect valuing and evaluating just that: process.
More specifically—and this is true for every unit in my English 5A, 5B, and 10 courses—I have my students keep track of and evaluate their labor as they work through their projects on a weekly basis. The basic prompt is three-fold: What went well with the labor? What didn’t go well? What can be done next time to make the labor even better? This labor journal allows my students (and me) to keep track over what labor is being done and how it is being done. When students bring their labor habits to their consciousness by having to articulate it through language and then evaluate and assess that labor, concrete ideas for growth and development are a natural result. Another process-oriented task my students do are blogs in which they enter into a conversation of ideas about the texts that they’re reading in real time—and I frequently require students to respond to each other’s posts. Although the blog itself is a product, it’s another product that forces students to be mindful of their process as the prompts require them to be actively engaged with their reading while they’re reading. Finally, since my students must keep an active log of their reading throughout each unit, they are able to make meaning through their responses and through sharing their responses with their colleagues thus demonstrating to them that learning is an active process that happens both individually and communally.
In short—seeing as though all iterations of reading and writing begin with a sense of confusion—I facilitate my students’ movement toward clarity and self-discovery through collaboration with the texts they read, with each other, and with me. I see myself as a facilitator of their own meaning making, not as an authoritative source to some hidden branches of knowledge. In my classroom, it is my ultimate goal that my students—regardless of their roots—leave with the ability to make their own fields fertile and to reap everything they therein sow.