Statement of Teaching Philosophy
"Instruction must be oriented toward the future, not the past. . .the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development, and leads it; it must be aimed not so much at the ripe - - as the ripening functions"
Vygotsky (1997), Thought and Language.
Tammy Winner White
Ph.D. Candidate, ABD, Rhetoric & Linguistics, IUP
Teaching composition in computer mediated environments, studying literacy, composition, and education theories, and reflecting on what it means to be a teacher has given me the means to state my teaching philosophy.
In Young & Sullivan's (1984)"Why write? A reconsideration" they argue we write because it enables us to think in ways that are not possible otherwise given the capacity of our short-term memory. Writing, that is, using a tool like an abacus, pen, or keyboard to record our thoughts, allows us to work with "more units of information than our short-term memories can reasonably accommodate" (p. 155). If we do not write, according to Young & Sullivan, "there are mental acts we cannot perform, thoughts we cannot think, inquires we cannot engage in"(158). In an effort to agree with and understand Young & Sullivan's points, I have come to view technology as the tool which gives way to literacy; a tool that affords a place to write and record our thoughts beyond our mind's capacity. As a teacher of writing, I want to help my students learn to use these tools to prewrite, write, revise, and collaborate.
Additionally, I believe that literacy and technology are inseparable because technology is the tool necessary for acquiring literacy. As a teacher, my pedagogy develops and improves every time I experiment with some sort of technology to further the goals of my classes, and in doing so, I find I give writers opportunities to write in new ways and reinvent themselves.
My teaching philosophy relates as well to the work of Lev Vygotsky in that I see various forms of technology having the capacity to act as a more capable peer for writers without adequate resources or audiences. For Vygotsky (1978), the learning process is not a solitary exploration by the child, instead it is a process of "appropriation" by the child of the methods of action existent in a given culture. In mediated learning situations, adults, or what Vygotsky defined "more capable peers" place themselves between the environment and the child, thus radically changing the conditions of interaction (p.67). The more capable peer selects, changes, amplifies, and interprets objects and processes for the child. Within Vygotsky's theory of mediated learning, he describes mediators as material tools, psychological tools and other humans. Thus, technology functions as a material tool which encourages the development of lower and higher mental functions. But what does this theory buy me as a writing teacher? Computers and various on-line technologies create a greater opportunity for my students and I to communicate with one another in and outside of the writing classroom. Thus I use technology as a communicative writing tool and I encourage my students to do the same. And like many, I argue that writing is a collaborative process that exists in intertextual forms. In hypermedia writing environments, according to Landow (1992) a new model of collaboration exists, one that marries both the assembly-line collaborative model, a system where writers work together to build a text in pieces that each contribute, and versioning, where one writer produces a draft on their own and then passes it on to another writer who rewrites or adds to it at another time ( p. 89). In combining the two, I encourage students to add "chunks" of multiple authors to their own writing to add strength to their arguments, and at the same time, consult multiple readers about the development of their work. By encouraging students to communicate and consult with each other using various on-line mediums, (i.e. World Wide Web, electronic mail, chat rooms, and peer editing writing software) I am asking them to write for an audience much greater than the traditional model of teacher feedback or peer response. In addition, I am asking them to write together.
While none of these ideas are new to the teaching of writing in general, nor are they perfect for every writing classroom, current technology allows me to teach collaboration and audience awareness in new ways that improve some writing experiences. In addition, this way of teaching asks me to encourage my students to go beyond the limits of my classroom and use the computer, world wide web, electronic mail and other forms of technology as a tool to mediate their learning. At the same time, I am introducing my students to a form of technological literacy that will prepare them to participate in the current social practices that technology is creating. But this way of teaching has its price. Using technology in a writing classroom takes time, energy and resources. In addition, it requires me to be more sensitive to my students tasks of writing in an environment that is difficult to navigate and glutted with information that can be taxing to read. Also, I have to be aware, and I try to make my students aware, of the new genres of discourse that develop in an electronic writing environment such as the emerging standardized, conventional elements of a homepage or a post to a list serv.
I believe teaching writing using technology and collaborative methods gives writers and teachers more freedom and renewed spirit. It gives me the opportunity to refine, reinvent, and rejuvenate my pedagogy every time I use a new technological tool. Using a computer to word process papers allows writers to move beyond the lower level decisions of spelling and spacing and to concentrate more on the meanings they are trying to negotiate. Using electronic modes of communication, such as Internet, email, and chat, allows me to be more accessible to my students because it affords me opportunities to engage in asynchronous modes communication.
If I had my druthers, I would teach all my writing courses in a networked computer classroom that offered my students every opportunity to marry the greatest gifts of the traditional classroom with the gifts of a computer mediated classroom. In doing so, I believe, I would give my students the literacy skills they need to excel.
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