Classes I Have Taught
Nature Writing; MFA Fiction Workshop; Creative Writing (introductory three-genre class), Fiction Writing (junior and senior level); Poetry Writing (junior level); Contemporary Literature (sr level, all genres); Contemporary Fiction (sr level); Bad Girls: Literary Representations Across Cultures; Studies in Fiction: Magical Realism; Studies in Nonfiction; Business Writing; Technical Writing; Major World Writers; American Literature; Women Writers; Women and Creativity; First-Year Composition; Introduction to Literature; Writing and Editing for Publication; layout/design for student literary magazine (Manastash)
Only connect. – E.M. Forster, epigraph to Howard’s End
I want my students to find personal connections to the subject matter, reasons to care about it, and ways to apply what they’re learning to their lives and their relationships. I also need to help them learn skills that will lead to their success in academia and in the workplace: how to handle language with accuracy and subtlety, how to read with care and precision. More important, however, fortified with such skills, I hope they’ll venture forth to become better citizens, neighbors, and friends. To such ends, in the classroom, I apply the following principles:
· Foster personal and interdisciplinary connections. By using service-learning in my classes, I have encouraged students to explore how course content relates to the community and how writing itself can be used to promote and explore relationships with others. In my fiction-writing class, we talk about how stories both reflect and create community mythologies. Because of my education and teaching experience in Fisheries, Earth Sustainability, and Women’s Studies, I bring a uniquely broad perspective from science and the humanities into my class discussions.
· Offer freedom of choice. Being able to choose among assignments empowers students. Thus, I always offer more than one essay topic, and in my creative writing classes, students may write stories in any genre exploring any set of characters and themes.
· Provide real audiences for student writing. Too often, students writing for professors who are already experts in the field feel their work is purposeless. Why tell someone something he or she already knows? To avoid this problem, I sometimes assign writing for readers other than professors. In a women writers class, for instance, students were invited to write a letter from Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl) to women living under the Taliban. Some of my creative writing students have put their work in class-created literary magazines on the Internet to broaden their readership.
· Keep learning active. When students hear themselves speak, see what they write, and listen to other students, they learn what they think. There are, of course, times when I lecture, but my lectures are usually brief. I prefer to introduce a concept and then let the students apply the new ideas. I then become their audience, as do their peers. Thus, fiction writers engage in workshop discussion of their stories and students in writing-intensive classes, trained to become their own best critics, do peer reviews. All these activities are carefully structured and closely monitored, since frequent, positive feedback is a must for effective learning.
· Maintain high expectations, but support each stage of development. Too often, we expect students to leap to the final stage of the assignment, that high platform, when we haven’t provided a ladder whereby they might simply take one step at a time. I try to sequence writing assignments, particularly for longer papers, to support the process by which student writers will make progress. At the same time, I expect the quality of products along the way to be high.
· Clearly articulate objectives and methods of assessment. On my syllabus, and on most of my writing assignments, I specify objectives and match up methods for assessment so the students will understand what it is they are supposed to be learning and how it will be measured.
· Provide timely and meaningful feedback for which the students are held responsible. I generally return papers within one week. I offer written commentary or require one-on-one conferences. Often, too, I provide opportunities for peer reviews and then give students an opportunity to revise. Otherwise, the commentary is useful only for justifying a grade. I want it, instead, to provide an opportunity for learning. To be sure students are attentive during the revision process, I ask them to highlight changes they’ve made on the final draft and to write a paragraph of self-assessment to be handed in with each final draft.
· Vary the methods of presentation to appeal to students with different learning styles. I use the traditional lecture with overheads or PowerPoints (depending on available technology), small group breakout sessions, whole class discussions, computer asynchronous chats and modules, lots and lots of writing, and occasional drawing sessions to help students learn. I especially enjoy opportunities for class field trips, because they so frequently build a sense of community.