My teaching approach emerges from the idea that individuals learn best through interaction, whether that interaction is with a text or with other individuals, and cooperative technologies. In a society that can at times appear to be over-stimulated, my approach to teaching rests on social-constructivist and a process negotiating pedagogy. More simply put, I believe students learn best when in interaction with others and the technology and society around them. While I believe a process for composition exists, and I do teach that process, I realize that the process is not always followed the same for every assignment, and so adaptability becomes an important task to address to students. Thus, students negotiate their writing process depending upon a number of factors, such as writing task and personal biases. I perform these concepts as a writing instructor and as a literature instructor in a variety of forms.
In the writing classroom, I utilize a genre-based approach to teaching writing to allow students to understand not only multiple genres, but also the criteria that applies to each individual genre. Though writing is seen as an individual act, I use peer groups and other social constructivist approaches to have students work together to complete smaller tasks that make up a future assignment. When students approach a new idea with the support of not only myself as the teacher, but also the support of fellow students, learning is encouraged. Using my philosophies, I approach writing as a process-negotiating act and encourage the use of multiple technologies in the composition of a particular written genre. Using multiple technologies help students understand the importance of adaptability in an ever-changing society where processes are continually modified.
In my current writing classroom, I show multiple genre formats to the students who then assist me in locating criteria that gives definition to that specific genre. Instead of me, as the teacher, supplying them with these criteria, I ask them to work together to find certain criteria that make up a particular genre. Later on, they are able to do this process individually and know not only genres we have discussed, but quickly understand and apply new genres as needed. I have applied this activity successfully in my English 120 class at North Dakota State University, as my students today understand how to formulate and activate numerous genres. Understanding the genre concept also helps students realize that writing is an interdisciplinary activity. Each discipline incorporates its own writing genres. By introducing multiple genres, and having students work on what defines those genres, they can be more successful in their own fields where genre work is concerned. This idea will come into strong focus when I teach my English 358 Writing in the Social Sciences and Humanities course this coming Spring semester.
But my work as a teacher does not end in the writing classroom and extends into the literature classroom as well. In fact, writing happens in both classrooms just as how reading happens in both classrooms. For instance, learning writing involves reading and even writing common literary forms, such as poetry, to help students deepen critical thinking and self-expression. As a literature instructor, I maintain my social constructivist approach. Literature has the ability to pave an individual’s way toward discovery. Sometimes readers use literature for self-discovery and other times readers use literature to further understand others. As a teacher, literature serves as a springboard for me to introduce to students new ways of thinking. Literature serves our humanity just as literature is one of the humanities.
In a culture where technology advances quickly, it becomes more important people are able to communicate effectively. This becomes particularly important considering the number of non-native English speakers that enter our classrooms. The study of literature promotes effective communication and social understanding for students of all languages and cultures. I believe that given our constantly expanding global and diverse community, a force like literature needs to be further implemented within our educational system because without literature how can we begin to understand all facets of humanity?
I begin my classroom teaching by asking students how they approach a story. The story I choose may be a work of flash fiction by Donald Barthelme, a piece by Anton Chekov, or someone as accessible as Lorrie Moore. After the students read the story, and I read the story aloud, I have them write down some of the following: reactions toward the story, feelings about the main characters, how the story relates to who they are, or whatever comes to mind for the student. This way of opening a classroom discussion is also helpful for non-native speakers of English since it allows them the opportunity to see the words as well as hear them and later respond to what they have read and heard. As a class, we discuss the features of the story looking deeply at meaning, point of view, structure, setting, or whatever becomes relevant through discussion. Before the students leave class, I ask them to write on their thoughts after discussing the story. For instance, has something in discussion opened up their mind to a new way of interpreting the story? This serves to show the student that reading is an active process.
Making students become aware that reading and writing are active processes continues throughout the semester. Students read stories or poems and then write in a journal about what they think and what they have discovered about literature or themselves. Journals work as a type of reader-response where the student may write on whatever it was about the story that affected him or her most. A student may even come back to the entry and revise their reading after class discussion. Again, this helps to reassert the active process of reading literature. Students also learn that writing also exists as an active process. These elements further the learning of the student and assist them further in their college careers as they apply the concepts of what they have learned in their English class into their major field of study.
With technological production, online teaching has gained in popularity and it is something that I also have experienced. Currently, I teach Lit 3001 World Literature at the University of Minnesota, Crookston using the online learning platform Moodle. Though this course is online, my students are actively engaged learners. As an activity theorist, I use activities in Moodle to further engage students by having them use chat rooms, complete “choice” activities, surveys, and build wikis. Students often find these activities enjoyable and they also get to know other students through the use of online forums and chats. A recent comment from a student was as follows:
“Ms. Jorgenson asks great questions about the readings for the week that get students thinking and involved with the text. Activities we complete in Moodle are also fun as we get to communicate with other students in the course, sometimes live”
Considering what I have shown already, my teaching is interdisciplinary. For instance, I use multiple texts such as advertisements, film clips, music, and literature to further engage my students. The individual attention I give each student also becomes an important element in my teaching. One student from my English 101 class I taught as a graduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote:
“Ms. Jorgenson has an ability to give every student attention in the classroom setting where there is not only different personalities, but the sometimes distracting presence of computers and technology.”
With this comment, my motivation as a teacher shows a particular strength that comes through in the examples throughout this teaching philosophy I have described. Thus, my class structure maintains a level of independence for the student. A student will discover literature for themselves and then be able to communicate that to others in the classroom. My teaching is collaborative as classroom discussion, as well as small group discussion, becomes pertinent to a student’s understanding of the reading and writing processes. The classroom structures itself into its own community of readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers, all of whom collaborate to make the study of English come alive and become meaningful for all participants.