I have taught a breadth of literature and composition classes at Illinois, from introductions to poetry and drama to a survey in British literature, as well as an introduction to literary study. I have also taught writing intensive composition classes, such as Business and Technical Writing and Multimodal Composition. I have extensive experience working with English Language Learners and international students, both in my literature and composition classes, as well as in my work as a writing consultant at the UIUC Writers Workshop. In all my classes, I empower students to become acute critical thinkers and engaged citizens of their communities, their countries, and the world.
Literature especially provides students with a powerful avenue through which to explore the complex relationship among culture, politics, and the human experience. I ask students to be skeptical of the world around them, and to consider how a critical approach to reading and writing dovetails with a critical approach to social justice and citizenship.
My literature classes invite students to use both historical context and their own experience to develop their close reading and argumentative skills. Discussion often centers on texts dealing with the ethics of social, economic, racial, gendered or sexual justice. Recently, in my introduction to English literature survey, we read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Behn’s Oroonoko in the context of the history and current state of racial politics in the U.S and Britain. We examined contemporary adaptations of The Tempest by Julie Taymor (film) and Robert Currier/The Marin Shakespeare Company (stage,) both of which cast Caliban as an African slave, the latter also envisioning Ariel as an African Goddess Spirit. This casting allowed us to discuss both the play’s colonial context, and what it means today to see black bodies as simultaneously powerful and oppressed. We contrasted Shakespeare’s more subtle discussion of the colonial project with Behn’s overt depiction of racial violence in Oroonoko. In this way, I also introduced students critical lenses like post-colonial and feminist theory, both of which help students make sense of what are often disturbing images of violence and oppression.
I often require students to present on a topic or text and lead discussion in order for them to develop their own interpretation of literary work, a theoretical approach, or a social issue. I encourage them find creative and performative ways in which to engage with a text: they may present a dramatic reading, stage a scene, create a video diary or slide show, or design another project. These interactive approaches allow students to more fully experience the text and the ideas it presents. By putting their bodies into an active relationship with the text, students are able to develop both an emotional and critical understanding of the work that a text does. Such activities emphasize literature and argument as experiential rather than as the purview of only great or intellectual works. For example, in my introduction to drama class, a group of students staged a scene from Aphra Behn’s The Rover, in which a drunken Wilmore nearly rapes Florinda in a darkened garden. Instead of playing the scene for laughs, the students chose to highlight the violence of the near rape by acting out a physical altercation that resulted in Florinda being backed into a corner of the room, blocked from escape by Wilmore. This staging allowed the students to situate the sexual politics of the play against the visceral reality of the violence of rape and the suppression of female sexual agency. Their classmates responded positively to this staging, even though—or perhaps because—it touched on a difficult topic. In all my classes, I work to develop a safe space in which students trust their classmates and myself. I do warn students when we will be discussing potentially disturbing scenes or themes, but I encourage them to remember that all literature comes out of the human experience, which includes both good and bad. The majority of students have appreciated the opportunity to discuss topics they often are unable to discuss elsewhere.
I incorporate digital media into my teaching because students often find it an approachable entry into a text. I consistently use video, stills, songs, podcasts and audiobooks as learning tools. In addition to using The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to help students understand the satire of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, I used the audiobook of Wolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to help them better process the narrative style. Since teaching multimodal composition, I have become ever more attuned to the benefits of multi-sensory experiences for developing literacy and critical thinking skills. Too often, students have never been asked to consider the relationship among listening, watching, and reading, even though they are usually great consumers of audio-visual media. In the same way it proves useful for them to perform—and thus embody—scenes from novels like Behn’s Oroonoko (as I discuss in my cover letter), hearing Wolf’s narration spoken aloud reveals the depths of alienation and suffering of both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith, which can easily get lost in students’ struggle to visually process the stream of words on the page.
I extend my use of digital media to writing projects that ask students to consider how digital platforms and open access shape cultural literacy. In addition to a critical paper discussing their project, students have created Facebook accounts for characters from Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, and invited their classmates to embody the characters by interacting online. By interpreting the characters through social media that they use in their own lives, students understood the characters, their relationships, and the novel in a way that resonates with how they consume media every day. Students have also reimagined Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as “The Real Housewives of Earnest” as a way to understand its satire and its distinction from schadenfreude, and mapped out the emotional journey of Frankenstein’s monster through video montage.
I also work to develop students’ more traditional writing skills by designing flexible but rigorous writing assignments that require students to be creative problem solvers. In my introduction to poetry class, students work together to create poetry anthologies centered on a theme of their choice. The anthology assignment allows them to see the ways in which poetry engages in dialogue with other works and events relevant to its moment of production and to the students’ lived experiences. One semester, a group of students chose to create an anthology of Holocaust poetry. The anthology proved to be especially powerful because it developed a multi- faceted perspective on such an impactful, but sometimes distant-seeming event. The students categorized poems by the experience of the victims before, during, and after the camps, as well as included poems by those who were either active in or complicit with the Nazi regime and poems by those who fought to end it. By acting as curators of this poetry, the students found that considering a multiplicity of voices was the only way to experience the lasting influence of the Holocaust on the Western world. By encouraging students to find creative venues to make their case, I allow them to communicate in ways that both resonate with and shape their experience of their communities.
Similar to my literature classes, my composition class emphasizes critical citizenship and social justice through rigorous assignments that require creative solutions. In my ethics and crisis management class, for example, students research an industry and specific cases of crisis with the ultimate goal of developing a crisis management guide. This guide includes sample press releases and FAQs, as well as policies and procedures relating to communicating ethically with the public at various stages of a realistically imagined crisis. Students develop an epistemological framework by reading and discussing ethical theories, as well as by studying industry ethical guidelines and codes of conduct. Ultimately, they develop a keen understanding of the reciprocal relationship between readers and writers that equips them to enter the business world (this is a business writing class). In my writing across media class, students complete a group final project that asks them to advance a social, political, or aesthetic argument across multiple media platforms to learn how the medium impacts their message. Students have covered topics like Black Lives Matter, cyberbullying, and campus sexual assault. The group working on Black Lives Matter combined spoken word poetry with a traditional podcast, a video, and a poster to create a powerful meditation on race and police violence. Their work included a call to conversation (this was before the movement had coalesced into an action-oriented movement) by incorporating social media hashtags about race at the University of Illinois. By inviting the audience into the conversation, the students demonstrated the vital role of audience involvement and response to rhetorical argument. Ultimately, this project allows students to communicate in ways that both resonate with and shape their experience of their community.