I use an ecological model of writing to teach students to be flexible writers.
I believe in an ecological model of writing, which acknowledges the broad range of literacy experiences—within and beyond school—that inform an individual’s growth as a writer. This has immense implications for almost everything I do as a writer and a teacher of writing. It informs how I think about literacy, and how I teach students to be flexible writers who can appropriate and transfer writing in and across all its broad contexts. It shapes my belief that writing is a recursive process, a process that is as unique as the writers who engage in it, and that it can be approached using various strategies that can be taught. It is the umbrella under which all of my classroom practices gather.
An ecological model of writing also implies that a writer’s purpose is just as important as the audience that he or she is writing for, and just as important as the genre he or she is writing in. Thus, genre study is a foundation of my writing classes. This allows for a dynamic integration of multiple modalities as students practice composing in various contexts for various purposes for various audiences.
My main goal in any writing class I teach is to see my students grow as writers. Because an ecological model of writing attends to a diversity of rhetorical situations for literacy practice, I facilitate this growth first by establishing a safe and strong classroom-community. This makes room for attention to various learning styles, the celebration of diverse life experiences, and ultimately a rich site for collaboration and peer review. Before leaving my classroom on any given day, students will have had the chance to discuss, read, write, move, work in small groups, listen to explanations and write in digital environments. Students have the opportunity to engage with the recursive process of writing through discovering and reflecting on their own writing processes, through feedback received from myself and their peers, and through opportunities to publish and present their compositions.
Another important goal that I set for every class I teach is that my students grow as human beings. This purpose is served through the various pedagogical strategies mentioned in the previous paragraph, but it is enforced by my own belief that my students are whole people. I am not just teaching a room full of writing students, but of humans who have lives—families, other college courses, jobs, children, and other experiences—that form their personal writing ecologies, within which they engage with writing and my class. Understanding my students and these diverse personal contexts as holistically as possible helps me to more effectively teach them, and also helps us all make meaning together as a community of writers.
Because I believe that writing improvement happens through writing practice, digital portfolios are a way that I can efficiently and accurately assess this improvement. Students in my classes use writing to learn and also use writing to demonstrate learning. Throughout any given semester, students are assessed in their writing process improvement, but nowhere is this more effectively demonstrated than in the end-of-semester digital portfolio, which includes several writing samples, as well as a reflective essay. In evaluating student writing, my belief is that exceptional writing demonstrates appropriate genre conventions, rhetorical awareness, and a strong sense of voice. In order to produce this kind of exceptional writing, understanding rhetorical strategies and effectively using them is key. These qualities will be present in a successful digital portfolio. Built on an ecological model of writing, my classrooms are lively communities where we practice improving our writing processes, and where writing is evaluated and assessed in stages, culminating in a digital writing portfolio.