"Good learners, like everyone else, are living, squirming, questioning, perceiving, fearing, loving, and languaging nervous systems, but they are good learners precisely because they believe and do certain things that less effective learners do not believe and do." -Postman and Weingartner (31)
“Good learners, like everyone else, are living, squirming, questioning, perceiving, fearing, loving, and languaging nervous systems, but they are good learners precisely because they believe and do certain things that less effective learners do not believe and do.” -Postman and Weingartner (31)
This quote from Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity captures what I feel to be the essence of learning, and it is key to what I do as a teacher: creating the conditions of learning that support students’ development of effective learning behaviors.
I use Brian Cambourne’s phrase conditions of learning to think about the various components of my classroom ecology—that physical, discursive, and affective space that is comprised of my students, me, and the rest of the “stuff” of the classroom. I support my students’ learning through attending to these various elements of the learning environment and thinking about how they intersect and work together. Through modeling research and writing practices, being explicit about expectations for writing and classroom engagement, and allowing space for students to try new kinds of writing, writing in new genres, and writing about topics that are important to them with the benefit of feedback, reflection, and repeated practice, I work to help students understand writing and becoming a writer as a recursive process.
I also believe that grounding students’ learning in what they want and need to know makes for a meaningful classroom experience. Through the development of an inquiry-based curriculum, opportunities for meaningful collaboration, and writing assignments that allow room for students to play with text and writing concepts, I work to develop a composition classroom can both meet the goals and standards set forth for the course by the institution and serve as an introduction to the work that will be extended by students’ other learning experiences. Projects like designing About Me pages for their writing blogs, crafting proposal arguments that will be shared with authentic audiences, and writing dialogues in which students insert their voices with the voices of authors whose texts they have analyzed, not only help students develop genre flexibility, but allow them to develop their thinking through very different kinds of writing tasks.
The composition classroom requires a safe, encouraging place for genuine inquiry, providing the context for meaningful learning that extends beyond one semester’s work. Inviting students to develop collaborative writing projects that respond to needs and possibilities they perceive in their communities encourages writing practices valued in both professional and social contexts. Allowing students room for play with texts, by exposing them to alternative genres–like the I-Search paper–working with them to interpret assignments, helping them make connections between their personal interests, prior knowledge, and the assignment, and allowing them to create texts in alternative ways, strengthens their opportunities for making their voices heard in a way that matches their experiences and perspectives, and prepares students for the writing they will do in other areas of their academic and professional lives.
In these approaches, paying attention is inherently important. Through reflective writing and thinking about their role in the classroom environment, students can develop a self-concept of rhetorical and responsible agency, paying attention to their prior knowledge, beliefs, and emotions, to their responses to the rhetorical situation, to their awareness of being influenced by and influencing others, and to how each of these things contributes to the rhetorical decisions they make. As teacher, in listening to my students, in reflecting upon their work and my own, and in re-shaping and re-imagining the work that happens in my classroom based on these observations, the work I do with students is continually improving.