"[E]ffective teachers are masters of their subject, can organize and emphasize, can clarify ideas and point out relationships, can motivate students, and are reasonable, open, concerned, and imaginative human beings" (Seldin, 1991, p. 1).
A common question/frustration many of my students have before they begin my class is, "What does English have to do with the real world." Early each semester I make a point to share my dislike of the phrase "real world" because it inherently lessens the value and realness of college life. Rather than addressing how my class will help in the "real world," I organize my classroom to emphasize the value of English and rhetoric for their lives during and after college--the post-education world.
As I teach and prepare, I am faced with an important question of instrumental vs. rhetorical camps of thought--learning the "tools of the trade" vs. learning the "why behind the what." For a long time I adhered to the rhetorical camp, thinking that thinking was the most important aspect of anything. After reading Patrick Moore's rather infuriating article, "Rhetorical vs. Instrumental Approaches to Teaching Technical Writing," I realized the importance of instrumentality--although, not to the extent proposed by Moore. While teaching tools is imperative for any classroom, teaching why and when to use them for a particular audience carries more weight. I still believe rhetorical teaching will trump the instrumental. This method of teaching is most evident in my English 2010 class at Utah State University, Argumentative Writing in the Persuasive Mode.
Most other sections of ENGL 2010 are quite similar in structure: several small assignments leading to a larger persuasive research paper turned in at the end of the semester. I organized my class to not only emphasize the principles of rhetoric, argumentation, and persuasion, but how to use collaborative tools as well.
After reviewing résumés and cover letters, every student will submit one of each to me applying for an editor-in-chief position based on a job description I post on our class website. From there I divide each class into five groups with an editor-in-chief each; each student will act as an author and editor. Each group creates a class magazine with its own title, purpose, and audience. Then every student creates three call for proposals (a scholarly article, a letter to the editor, and a blog post) that I post on our class website. Once every call for proposal is posted, students from either class apply for any of the articles they want to write and submit a proposal to the respective editor. Over the next one to two weeks, editors and authors communicate with each other via professional emails, sending letters/notifications of acceptance and rejection.
Once each author and editor has been assigned, authors begin to research and write their articles using Google Docs, sharing their files with their editor and me. During the next four weeks, authors and editors collaborate on each individual article while simultaneously creating a website for their magazine using Weebly. To the left is a sample of my syllabus from spring 2015.
My primary purpose is not to show students how to use Google Docs or Weebly, but to expose them to different ways of learning and collaborating with their classmates and future co-workers. This organization not only emphasizes the different principles we discuss in class, but it emphasizes and mimics an environment which they are likely to experience post-education.