The teaching of writing is both time consuming and exhilarating. While it's easy for me to get caught up in commenting on papers, lesson planning, and reading for preparation, it's the conversing with students that truly reminds me of why I'm doing what I'm doing. And what is it that I am actually doing? Well I'm teaching students to have a voice.
Peter Elbow's article "Embracing Contraries in the Teaching Process" describes the paradigm of teaching when he writes, "I am... talking about developing opposite and complementary sides of our character or personality: the supportive and nurturant side and the tough, demanding side." And he is right. Education is about being both a guardian of standards and an ally to our students, as he describes it.
I sit here writing this after receiving two compliments from students at the end of the semester. Both thanked me profusely for teaching them how to write better, develop arguments, and enjoy writing at the collegiate level. In my teaching, I employ technology, independent work, partner work, large group discussion, and even some lecture. It's important for students to contextualize writing as a community effort. Writing doesn't happen in isolation in real life and nor should it in my classroom. Because of this, much of my teaching of writing involves working with others. For example, during the research unit, students work in groups of 3-4 writing research proposals, searching for and developing their own research, creating webographies with annotated bibliographic information, and creating research showcases. They work together for 4-5 weeks and learn how to interact with one another both socially and academically.
I teach my students to value each others' opinions and to give thoughtful critique and suggestions to their peers. We might do this through different mediums each day but in doing this, it teaches them to have a voice both in their writing and in their response to others' writings.
In being both a gatekeeper of standards and an ally to my students, I can format my teaching of writing in a way that reaches my main goal in the course: to find your voice. I encourage them through positive, minimal marking strategies and offer suggestions; though, when it comes right down to it, those suggestions and comments are based off of the standard goals for successful writing. I offer a conversation about their work, like compositional theorist Nancy Sommers suggests. All of this together creates an environment where students value and take pride in what they have accomplished.