My teaching approaches were developed over the course of seven years spent teaching at Arizona State University and Kutztown University, and have been further refined in the past three years of working with students at Middle Tennessee State University. My foci in the classroom include (1) a praxis orientation that combines theory and practice to connect course materials to students’ everyday lives, (2) aiding students in developing critical thinking abilities, and (3) fostering justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the classroom through course content as well as inclusive teaching practices.
My own background as a “non-traditional” student informs my abilities to work with diverse student populations and to make connections between course material and students’ lives. Having re-entered my formal schooling after working for several years as an independent singer-songwriter with activist commitments, my pedagogy is richly influenced by the desire to connect theorizing with experience. In the classroom, three practical goals assist me in this regard: making course content relevant to students, underscoring the centrality of rhetoric and communication for our lives, and fostering a passion for social responsibility and justice. Each goal has a corresponding outcome of contributing to engagement and skill building, developing critical thinking skills, and fostering personal and community growth. Through a variety of teaching and assessment methods, I seek to make course materials relevant to students with a variety of experiences, backgrounds, and learning styles. For example, in my Introduction to Women’s Studies course, traditional means of assessment are supplemented with a creative nonfiction essay assignment. In this essay, students link their identity formation to larger structures through the use of vivid narrative writing. This gives students a chance to understand the course material through the lens of their own lives, while also recognizing and building skills often overlooked by standardized assessment practices.
|“I felt as if I learned things that I never would have learned unless I took this course which was useful because everything related to the real world. It helped me look at things from a different perspective.”|
Another successful strategy has been incorporating popular culture assignments into courses including Critical Methods in Communication, Persuasion, Gender Communication, and Women in the Media. Though these assignments vary in their specifics, they each require students to lead their classmates in discussion on a popular culture artifact of their choosing. Rather than doing them all at the same time, the presentations are spread out over the course of the semester, at the beginning of most of our course sessions. In this manner, students are encouraged to continually make connections between course content and their experiences, while also having the opportunity to instruct and learn from their peers. Through such practices, I endeavor to build an engaged, dynamic classroom environment where students can examine the complexity of communication in its many facets.
|“Roberta really was able to get the most out of the students through a variety of learning principles. She is a wonderful teacher.”|
Having taught a diverse range of courses to different student populations enhances my ability to adapt to student needs and to construct individualized learning experiences. For major assignments that can seem daunting to students, I work to break these down into smaller building blocks in order to help students develop their skills and confidence. One example is the 15-20 page research paper students complete in Critical Methods and Communication, which is broken into six steps over the course of the semester. This allows plentiful opportunity for feedback and individualized direction, and creates opportunities for students to revise and edit their writing in order to become more effective communicators. I also adapt my methods as appropriate to course content; for example, my Introduction to Women’s Studies students often have strong opinions and reactions to course readings, and although some of these come up during our classroom discussions, some students are not as prone to speak up as others. For this reason, not only do I create space for additional voices in break-out discussions, I also assign weekly reading responses that invite students to engage with the readings from their own perspectives, experiences, and existing knowledges. I treat these submissions as individual conversations where I respond to the students by sharing my own experiences, clarifying concepts as needed, and encouraging them to think more deeply about the issues they raise. I also learn from this engagement, because it allows me to understand how students are receiving the material and adjust lessons and examples as necessary.
As a feminist teacher-scholar with specializations in rhetoric, intercultural communication, and women’s and gender studies, my courses further offer students opportunities to understand communicative processes as embedded in power structures and impacted by our identities. Providing students with skills and analytical capacities for recognizing overlapping systems of privilege and inequality not only prepares them for their future careers or postgraduate training, it also helps them to become responsible and ethical leaders and citizens in today’s global landscape. By creating spaces for students to engage the complexities of difference and inequality as they are shaped by, and reflected in, communication practices, I also encourage students to explore new ideas and discover new ways of seeing. My success in this regard is evidenced in my teaching evaluations, which consistently include comments that my courses challenged students’ existing perspectives in productive ways, and offered them new ways of understanding the world around them. By critically examining their own experiences in relation to course materials and applying their learning in ways well-suited to their individual goals, students leave my classes with complex understandings of rhetoric, cultural, and communicative practices, improved writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills, and concrete methods for applying their skills to understand and shape the world around them.
My commitments to praxis and inclusive teaching are also apparent in my ongoing investments in developing my teaching methods, mentoring students, and facilitating meaningful learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. As a faculty member at Middle Tennessee State University, I remain committed to making an impact in the lives of our students.