The way to write … is to actually write … A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.― Anne Enright
I believe that good writing is not the result of inspiration, some sudden strike of clarity that one must only channel in order to compose an effective text. I believe good writing is not simply a side effect of intelligence—or that bad writing is a symptom of stupidity. I believe writing is a skill that is learned, not a gift that is given to some and not to others.
I also know that many students do not believe this. Many students believe they are innately bad writers, or at least that they lack the capacity to be anything more than mediocre. The core of my teaching philosophy comes in response to this. Students will enter my classroom with a variety of strengths, a wide range of prior knowledge, and differing skill levels, but they will not enter as “good” writers and “bad” writers—just as students of writing, rhetoric, and critical thinking.
In addition to my Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, I hold a BA in Psychology, and I cannot think about the idea of teaching without the idea of learning, or about the idea of learning without the behavioral principles of reinforcement, motivation, and incentive. These three ideas are connected and, I believe, inform the way I approach teaching.
For students still developing a sense of autonomy in writing, reinforcement is crucial. Because of this, my classes emphasize peer response along with professor response—students must know that others are paying attention to and investing in their writing. A tenet of operant conditioning is that positive reinforcement is the most effective means of teaching, and although providing students with constructive criticism is important, they also need feedback responding to what they are doing well.
As a writer, I already value writing, and thus I am intrinsically motivated to do it. However, I recognize that some students may not have developed that yet, and simply testifying to my own love of writing will have limited effect. Because of this, as a teacher, I must find ways to provide extrinsic motivation for my students in writing. I cannot reasonably expect that all students will leave my classroom with the same passion I have, but if nothing else, I hope to show them the value writing can have for them.
Incentives can be immensely helpful for students who are hesitant to write for writing’s sake, and the best incentives are ones that connect naturally to the task. Because I aim to incentivize writing, not simply the completion of assignments, I provide them real-world incentives in the form of applications to accompany more abstract ideas, demonstrating why the tools of writing, rhetoric, and critical thinking will do more than allow them to earn a passing grade and fulfill a curriculum requirement. My assignments are grounded in the non-academic world, with an explicit emphasis on forms and techniques students can apply in a variety of contexts beyond my classroom—for instance, how to write a blog post that is professional but not just an academic essay posted online. The more my students have meaningful incentives, the more they will engage with the material; the more they are incentivized by a letter at the end of the semester, the less worth anything I try to offer them will have.
Composition is a much larger process that goes beyond a printed text, and in a world where communication takes more forms than ever, it is my duty as a teacher to do more for my students than school them in the appropriate placement of commas. By teaching writing as a skill and tool, rather than a mystical phenomenon of inspiration, I will present my students with a foundation on which they can continually build as they move forward in whatever direction they choose.