Communication and English are two of the most terrifying subjects for incoming freshmen. Both subjects require that students demonstrate skill mastery through writing or through persuasive speaking. As such, one of the first things I do is to reassure my students that my responsibility in the classroom is to help them learn how to be successful in college – not only in my course – but also in all their courses in their respective programs. The skills they learn in English Composition I and II and Oral Communication will help them communicate their opinions, beliefs, and values with confidence. The experience gained inside my classroom will enable them to share their views with their peers as well as help them to develop sensitivity toward those who have opposing viewpoints. My job, therefore, is multifocal and my role is to guide, to mentor, and to equip my students for success inside and outside the college classroom.
Strategies for Success in the Composition Classroom
Over the course of several years teaching composition, I have found that students need to feel comfortable expressing their views, orally and through writing. Often, my students will tell me that they are uncomfortable sharing their personal beliefs or they will say that they do not want to take a stand on a particular issue. In almost all freshman-writing courses, students are required to persuade others using the traditional Toulmin framework for argumentation. I have found that this approach is difficult for many students, and that the skill needed to find success eludes all but the most well prepared student.
In my experience, most incoming freshman lack the basic skill necessary to write a cogent and cohesive essay. Furthermore, they often struggle with grammar, sentence structure, and mechanical issues that cause them to receive less than stellar grades. Thus, my emphasis in the college freshman composition and communication course is to teach them how to write a solid academic essay rather than to focus solely on argument or persuasion. I prefer to use a gentle approach to argumentation (Invitational Rhetoric) to provide opportunity for open discussion of difficult topics without requiring my students to take a “right or wrong” stance. Furthermore, I teach my students to be solutions-oriented rather than argumentative. I believe that students need to be outcome focused, solutions-oriented, and team-minded in the real world. Therefore, my goal in teaching writing is to encourage strong academic writing, to develop solid research skill, and to promote collaborative thinking and strategy for practical application, which will be necessary once the student leaves the college campus.
Social and Cultural Influence in the Literature and Communications Classroom
When I teach Communication and Literature courses, my strategy is the same, although I incorporate more of an interdisciplinary approach that provides a social and cultural grounding for student exploration. I have found that most students lack understanding of key historical events, and that without this foundation, they struggle to grasp the deeper and more significant aspects of a particular work or genre. In order to facilitate quality discussion, I weave popular culture (i.e., movie clips, art, social media, music, fandom, etc.) into the course pedagogy in order to bridge the gap between text and student. I have found that this approach works well as it engages the student’s interest in reading and in discussing relevant themes and controversial issues as well as great works of literature.
I have integrated this focus on interdisciplinary study into all the courses I teach, which has made my teaching more effective and student learning more holistic and applicable to the world outside the classroom.