Fostering Community Accountable Scholars

Having taught writing in various contexts and spaces—prisons, community centers, newsrooms, and writing classrooms—I understand the need to foster community accountable scholars. Whether they are accountable to the temporary communities we create in the classroom, the local communities of the universities where we teach, their home communities, or communities transnationally, I work alongside students to collectivize the impact and value of the work we do together.

Let’s Be About It

As a student, I gravitate toward professors who are passionate about what they are teaching, who are aware of the power dynamics between student and teacher and manage them wisely, and who challenge me to think critically and to value the process of uncovering knowledge. These ideas inform my philosophy as a writing teacher and my desire to inspire students to engage in a lifelong curiosity toward action, a curiosity about the relationship of rhetoric and power and their role in social transformation.

Teaching as Co-Inquiry

Through teaching in the writing program, I continuously reflect on my role as a co-inquirer and adjust the established curriculum to meet my students’ learning styles while providing students with compelling reasons to write. I give students supplementary multimedia texts, connect our classroom discussions to contemporary conversations, and explore informal literacy opportunities. News articles and current events are a prominent feature of my classrooms, as I try to keep us grounded and connected to the exigencies for which we write. In the first-year composition course we often blog and always keep a digital journal as a knowledge depository for the class.

Writing Collectively

While I provide individual feedback and guidance, I also value collective feedback to create a deeper sense of relationality and mutuality between students and to challenge individualized production. Writing as a challenge to market-driven, individualized production is difficult, especially when we are continuously told that our social value depends on how well we can produce and market ourselves. But the challenge is an important one as it calls on us to account for our social and political locations in relation to each other and the values of what is being created.

DOING Multiliteracies & Multimodality

My pedagogy is driven by a few key questions: How do we truly account for and support multiliteracies in our curriculums and classrooms? How do we inspire a sense of collective agency? How do we have students value their work beyond products to be turned in for a grade?

I am encouraged when students’ curiosities are piqued, and when they reflect on their composing process and connect it to the readings and assignments. For example, in a critical writing course focused on challenging commonplaces, an art major created sculptures of faces that she then fractured and reconstructed to represent the multiplicity of her Latinx identity. She based the work on the concept of Nepantla, which she was introduced to after reading one of Anzaldua’s texts in our class. She included the art work as an artifact in her literacy narrative and reflected on her arts education and the lack of exposure to critical texts that connect to her identity and could help inform her art. In a food justice course, a student used the methods of an article we read in class written by Naa Oyo A. Kwate focused on fast food density in Black neighborhoods to study and write about his predominantly Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles.

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Damn Near Free Screen Print by Jamaal Barber from the “I, Too Am America: A Song of Race and Language” exhibit

In a recent critical writing and research course, I centered my class on writing in the arts, and students were tasked with visiting different art exhibits throughout the city of Syracuse. The exhibits were a mix of painting, screen prints, sculpture, and installations that directly challenged racism, Islamophobia, gender-based violence, and questions of being and belonging in the United States. The class assignments called on students to research the artists’ former projects, work trajectories, and objectives to get at a deeper understanding of what they were seeing. This allowed students pause, as they developed an ethos of deep observation and practiced suspending critique for thoughtful interpretation. In class, we experimented with art by making our own prints and creating installations so that students could practice working in different mediums and get a sense of an artist’s composing process. Students wrote in various genres: artist statements, exhibition brochures, and art, music, and movie reviews. For one assignment in this course, I brought in a collection of protest posters for students to pass around and get

Poster draft

Draft of a student’s ideas for a poster.

acquainted with the genre but also the issues the artists were responding to. Students then worked in groups to research and respond to a local social issue and produce their own posters. Throughout this course, I got the opportunity to teach genre-based writing on socially relevant issues while getting students out of the physical space of the classroom. We also transformed the classroom itself into studio space, and they practiced curating their writing in their individual arts writing blogs. I like to think of assignments as recursive. We worked with the poster genre again when students were doing movie reviews of the Sci-Fi film Children of Men.

Writing Our Histories

To sustain students’ intellectual engagement, I design my courses to include a critical accounting of personal histories. In my current first-year writing class, students have created their own digital literacy narratives, which include photos, videos, and other literacy artifacts. These narratives are then curated in different digital platforms. I began the class with written critical summaries of the text and later moved on to assigning video critical summaries attentive both to the conventions of video genres and written critical summary genres. It was heartening to witness how students who expressed less engagement in this work while writing were excited to talk about their videos. Videos gave us a new platform to think through composing strategies like the use of transitions and source material. It also offered students new considerations about composing for an audience. This multimodal approach opens up ways for people with different proficiencies, backgrounds, and interests to thrive and allowed me to learn about my students’ diverse knowledges.

It’s About More Than “The Next Technological Hotness” (Adam Banks)

In these classes, students work with a variety of composing technologies and build genre awareness, but the end goal is not just functional access or awareness but a transformative literacy. In describing this concept, I think of composition and rhetoric scholar Adam Banks’s description of transformational access to technology as the “genuine inclusion in technologies and the networks of power that help determine what they become, but never merely for the sake of inclusion.” I want students to use their access to technology and their genre awareness to find ways of building community accountability and genuine inclusion in literacy, a project that will often mean both awareness of and a challenge to established literacy and technological practices.

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