Below is a record of the courses that I taught for Boston College’s First-Year Writing Program in the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015. Following my teaching philosophy you can find an example of the syllabus and assignments that structured the coursework, the library research guides that I created together with BC research librarians, and student evaluations of my courses. My experience at Boston College built on previous work as a tutor and Teaching Assistant in English and American literature and creative writing.
If you would like to contact me about teaching opportunities, please feel free to reach me using the information provided in my CV.
To what extent is language powerful and what are its limits?
My goal is to give my students a firm grasp of how writing functions in public life. Through the process of investigating the rhetorical culture of the social institutions–libraries, schools, churches, businesses, clubs, governing bodies and more–my students trace the complex connections between language and power and express the findings of those investigations to their peers.
My courses take as their premise the multivalent and constructed nature of knowledge. Together with my students I explore of the semantic range of the word “class” as the guiding inquiry for our study. We read writers from a variety of discourse communities that are “classed” by nation, race, wealth, age, and ability. Taking it in turns to discuss “class” as a habit of mind (taxonomization and categorization), as social stratification (“upper class,” “working class”), as institutional hierarchy (“freshman class”), as demeanor and appearance (a “classy outfit”), and in various other modes, my students explore the complex function of our rhetorical acts as we inherit, adapt, and deploy them.
We speak with inherited voices
In the summer of 2013 I came across the syllabus that David Foster Wallace created for his courses in literary analysis. I was instantly taken by his teacherly voice. Brisk, earnest, open-handed. The voice of his course “aims” and the snappy sarcasm of his “rules on public discussion” weave together to create a persona that is both commanding and compassionate. I puzzled over how its sternness grew from its gentleness.
Like Wallace, I strive to challenge students to revise not just their writing, but also their thinking, and to come to see those two processes as enmeshed; in fact, identical. I follow John Bean in believing that “writing is critical thinking” (4).
Like Wallace, I strive to create a classroom where everyone present is encouraged to freely agree and disagree with others, where knowledge is seen as something that we create together rather than a static object that can only be grasped from one perspective, where changing one’s mind based on new evidence is a virtue and not a vice, and where an ethic of respect for others and for the seriousness of our shared pursuit to think and write well rules the choices we make.
In matters of instructional design I also have the pleasure of following the work of friends and colleagues at Boston College. To my surprise and pleasure, when I looked over the syllabus for the sections of Boston College’s First-year Writing Seminar that Brian Zimmerman was teaching in the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014, I found that he felt the same. He had, in fact, adapted much of the language from Wallace’s syllabus to create his own. A brilliant move! The following two months mulling over Joseph Harris’s Rewriting convinced me that teaching materials are formal documents (with an emphasis on form) as open to forwarding and countering, to borrowing and rewriting, as any other. In pursuing my work as an instructor I borrow the intellectual, which is the rhetorical, which is the written, moves of many of my friends and colleagues. I adopt and adapt much of the language and structure of my syllabi from writers, thinkers, and teachers whose understanding of the power of public discourse moves and inspires me.
Reading, curating, and creating public discourse
Libraries are among our most important and most democratic institutions. We underuse them to our shame. I work closely with librarians to open channels of access to my students, and to bring my students into strong relationships with the library and the people who provide its crucial services. Guides to substantive research and to strategies for publishing student work are critical tools in my courses. The librarians that worked with me to create these resources provide critical support to the work of educating students.
My students write book reviews. The review is a ubiquitous and flexible form, encompassing everything from Amazon’s product reviews to scholarly responses to the academic work of their peers. In today’s information-rich media environment, strong curation is a key aspect of public discourse. Considering the review as a form engaged with directly responding to and representing a cultural text (in the broadest sense) for an interested audience, my students read critically, evaluate the uses and limitations of texts, and offer recommendations to their readers. My students practice this form to establish a “literacy environment” where Joe Harris’s tools for academic writing are native creatures (Carroll xiii).
From this starting point, I ask students to analyze and to write in multiple forms and genres with goal of encouraging “rhetorical flexibility” (Bean 59). I help my students to develop habits of observation and analysis that allow them to adapt their writing to new situations by critically examining the norms for thinking and communicating of any group that they encounter. In terms of form, I am inspired by Jody Shipka’s insistence that creating multimodal compositions helped students to gain rhetorical knowledge, develop critical reading and writing skills, refine their sense of writing as a process enmeshed and in some ways identical with critical thinking, and grasp conventions and norms of writing (Shipka, Mathieu).
With that framework in mind, my students finish my courses by substantially revising one of their essays in order to submit it to a public platform of their choosing. My students both think and create using an array of models and for an array of audiences. In particular, my students analyze and practice scholarly communication along and across disciplinary lines. I challenge my students to think through writing that does more than tinker with their grade point average by preparing work for publication beyond the classroom, in both digital and print media.
Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
Carroll, Lee Ann. Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002. Print.
Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2006. Print.
Mathieu, Paula. “Final Portfolio Criteria.” First Year Writing Program, Boston College. 2 May 2014.
Shipka, Jody. “A Multimodal Task-Based Framework for Composing.” College Composition and Communication 57.2 (2005): 277-306. JSTOR. Web.
Wallace, David Foster. “Authority and American Usage.” Consider the Lobster and OtherEssays. New York: Back Bay Books, 2007. 66-127. Print.
Wallace, David Foster. “Teaching materials from the David Foster Wallace archive.” Image. Harry Ransom Center. The University of Texas at Austin. Web. 8 May 2014.
- Visual Presentation Assignment
- Opinion Writing Assignment
- Ethnographic Writing Assignment
- Book Review Assignment
- Writing Portfolio Assignment
Library Research Guides
A guide to conducting ethnographic research for first-year students.
A guide to considering publication platforms for student work.
Departmental evaluations from peers, supervisors, and mentors in Boston College’s First-Year Writing Program are available upon request.
 Continuing the theme of borrowing techniques from David Foster Wallace, I include this excursus on poetry as a lengthy footnote (see Wallace’s “Authority and American Usage” for examples of this sort of formal playfulness in his writing).
After the finishing up the first draft of my first syllabus at Boston College, I felt reasonably confident that I had achieved a course structure that realized the kind of approach to knowledge and discourse that I set out here. I was challenged in this by my mentors, who asked me to rethink the course structure’s creative writing component, which I considered central to the genre variety in my vision for the teaching rhetorical flexibility to my students.
Taking their advice, my first semester syllabus did not include any poetry and the publishing requirement for student writers that comes at the end of the semester specified that students must submit their work to an academic journal rather than allowing submission to any commercial or academic publication. This was on the strength of the assertion that reading or producing creative writing gives coursework the flavor of literature study. I took this point, but the issue was not settled in my own mind.
Two years later, I remain convinced that poetry’s role in public discourse did not die with the Elizabethan era. Having been moved by poems that explore complex aspects of American life, and having built much of my own ability to think critically on the intellectual moves of poets, I continue to ponder how poetic registers can have a place in the “range of genres” that John Bean maintains must be crucial part of any writing course (52).
I strive to keep students focused on the “public discourse” aspect of the work that we share in my classes. In my experience, poetry plays a significant role in public ways of addressing ourselves to our circumstances. In the classes following that first semester, creative writing in both poetry and prose have resumed a place on my syllabus and in my classroom. Even so, my mentors’ critical pressure on my approach helped me to refine the ways in which I discuss poetry, fiction, and memoir as aspects of public discourse.