Academic journal article English Journal

Rewriting Our Teaching Practices in Our Own Voices

Academic journal article English Journal

Rewriting Our Teaching Practices in Our Own Voices

Article excerpt

My approach to teaching critical writing is not directions for how to write so much as a set of terms to help students think about what they are doing as writers.

-Joseph Harris, Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts

From my experience, if you really want to grow, you'd better not wait for your district to provide PD for you. District PD tends to leave you slightly traumatized and often resentful; for too many of us stunting rather than fostering growth. Perhaps I've just had a negatively skewed experience, but based on conversations with dozens of colleagues over the years, I think my experiences are not outside the norm.

-Kate Flowers, high school English teacher

his juxtaposition of Joseph Harris's and Kate Flowers's views of personal agency and professional growth reminds us of an important perspective on our teaching and writing lives. In seeking to become better writers and better teachers, we must remain vigilant and embody commitment. There are no shortcuts to growth in a profession. We begin as novices and evolve in communities of practice toward expertise. Teachers, writers, and teachers of writing are not born-they develop over time through reflective practice in association and solidarity with others.

We argue that to help beginning teachers improve their practice, we (as teacher educators) must acknowledge their ongoing development toward becoming professional educators in the school communities they inhabit and with the students they serve. We see all "veteran" teachers surrounding "newbie" teachers as potential teacher educators. Professional development, as Flowers and Harris suggest, must embrace the terms and conditions set up by the real experts in the building. This requires us all to rethink the power of our own ideas.

The core idea that motivates our work as preservice educators and collaborators with cooperating teachers who mentor our teacher candidates is simple: The act of writing and rewriting is at the heart of professional growth. Just as Joseph Harris outlines, we propose that beginning teachers learn to write and "rewrite" their teaching practices, treating their "just-taught lessons" as emerging drafts, subject to improvement.

From this perspective, the novice English teacher would learn to treat the teaching of her lessons as texts, while the experts around her would use a common language of "moves" to provide formative feedback. In thinking through her ongoing, evolving project (the tremendous struggle of teaching and reteaching the imperfect lesson), the beginning teacher would participate in a community that respects the lesson-as-text, as well as the teacher as author struggling to convey meaning to an audience. Learning about the complex, nuanced role of audience, purpose, and voice is as fundamental to becoming a teacher as it is to becoming a writer.

When we work with teacher candidates and beginning teachers, they often ask whether writing is best taught through a process approach or through direct instruction. Since this question presumes a false dichotomy, we propose a third way to proceed. It is a moves-based approach that values discourse and engagement over technique and "how to get it done."

In Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, Harris illustrates his use of this moves-based approach to teach writing to his university students. He describes the power of "teaching a metalanguage," that is, "a set of terms to help students think about what they are doing as writers." In Harris's approach, a writing teacher "sponsors" students' revision and actively encourages openness to the provisional nature of the just-written text.

Kate Flowers's workshop during the San José Area Writing Project's 2013 summer institute, focusing on how she brought Harris's teaching approach to her high school classroom, provoked us to rethink our stance toward beginning teachers at San José State University. Like Flowers, we wondered: What other work, in what other contexts, could Harris's Rewriting inform? …

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