Inundated with tweets, text messages, and emails, students hardly realize how many genres they navigate every day. I teach my students to think more critically, write more fluently, and gain a greater awareness of how texts mediate their experiences with the world. By helping students develop working definitions of governing concepts like genre, narrative, and interpretation, my courses transform their intuitive knowledge of language into something more systematic and transferable to non-academic contexts. The skills I teach—to interpret texts, deploy evidence, and address others’ arguments—serve students well not only in their other classes but also beyond the university. My teaching goals reflect a strong commitment to liberal arts education and the university’s broader mission of humanistic inquiry.
I show students how successful writing conforms to—or creatively subverts—established genre conventions. Using genre to frame my courses enables students to contextualize readings in terms of both formal qualities and historical milieu. This attention to genre casts writing less as a monolithic task of transferring ideas to page (or screen) and more as a craft with varied constraints depending on the rhetorical situation at hand. The hypothesis of my first-year writing course, “Writing through Parody,” taught at Emory in the fall of 2015, was that students would learn genre conventions better while satirizing them. My students embraced this challenge, producing a monologue modeled on Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy in the voice of Kim Kardashian and a news parody about scientists’ discovery of the “dangerous” chemical dihydrogen monoxide (H2O). In 2019, I took this approach a step further in “Serious Satire,” my first-year writing class at Georgia Tech. My students created video parodies of genres of their choice, including game shows, telenovelas, sports commentary, and YouTube makeup tutorials. I collaborated with colleagues to offer storyboarding and video editing workshops, introducing students to the resources available at the library and Naugle CommLab.
Alongside analysis and creative interpretation, I prioritize strong research skills in my courses. Scaffolding assignments prepares students to write well-researched arguments in a series of manageable challenges. First, I introduce students to what Joseph Bizup calls “exhibit” and “argument” sources. Early in the course, students perform a close reading of a poem or short prose passage to practice the art of interpretation. Students love the challenge of interpreting complex texts with profound themes. Next, I provide students with two scholarly articles taking different positions on an issue and ask them to enter the critical conversation by evaluating whose argument better accounts for the text. This exercise helps students learn how to position their own ideas relative to the arguments of other scholars. Each of these activities isolates an important skill for literary criticism, so that students can develop these skills individually before combining them in their final researched argument.
I deepen the collaborative nature of my courses through peer review workshops, which enable students to practice becoming charitable readers of others’ work. Rather than simply giving a thumbs up or down, reading charitably involves offering thoughtful, specific feedback about the most and least effective aspects of the project and suggesting paths for revision.
I strive to teach my students how they can concretely respond to the complexities of the world with careful reading and thoughtful writing. Asking them to engage in scholarly conversation and support their claims not only improves their communication, but teaches them how to think critically, exploit genre conventions, collaborate with peers, and become more charitable interlocutors.