Teaching writing, in many ways, is like writing a composition. It is a complex process of continually circling back and forth between a number of cognitive, writing, communication, and learning tasks in order to ultimately make forward progress in meeting the goals of improved communication. Whether we are learners or teachers (who should always be learners), as we move through this complex process, we make continued connections that construct stronger, more vibrant writing, thinking, learning, and communication skills. My pedagogical objective as a writing teacher, then, is to facilitate these vital connections through creating both a course and classroom atmosphere that challenge and develop students’ cognitive awareness, critical thinking skills, collaborative abilities, reflective practice, and attention to the rhetorical situation. This is because clear, purposeful thinkers are clear, purposeful writers.

Because writing is first and foremost a product of thinking and all other components of writing are learned through thinking, I believe helping students increase their cognitive awareness is the first step in teaching writing. By maintaining a strong focus in the classroom on metacognition, not only will students increase cognition, thereby improving writing skills, but they will also increase their self-efficacy, a key to stronger ethos as a writer.

A focus on metagcognition, then, naturally leads to more critical thinking, through which all of my other pedagogical goals are ultimately facilitated. I believe that analysis and synthesis are the two major modes of critical thinking used in writing and, thus, employ them in most class activities, whether analyzing, problem-solving, communicating in small and large groups, synthesizing information individually and collaboratively, applying rhetorical concepts, or evaluating and reflecting on both self and others. Some of the specific activities my students experience that develop critical thinking skills include analyzing logical fallacies in print and media advertising; analyzing specific discourse communities and synthesizing an appropriate response to those communities; and persuasive research projects.

Many of these critical thinking activities are facilitated through group interactions, a fundamental practice in my teaching. I see small-group work as not only extremely helpful but crucial to the typical writing student because a great percentage of a human’s learning is done through observing others and their modeling, either through direct interaction or through vicarious experiences. Small-group work facilitates this beautifully because a typical writing student is more willing to learn from his peers than his teachers, and the interaction is more active, thereby creating a more cognitively challenging learning environment. In addition, it also helps develop students’ collaborative abilities, which strengthen not only their learning, communication, and thinking skills for the remainder of their academic life, but also aids them in becoming a strong part of any professional discourse community in the future, thereby helping them become productive citizens, one of my “hidden” objectives as a teacher.

This focus on small-group modeling and my “hidden” objective, however, does not mean I as the teacher will be invisible. Since I believe humans construct their knowledge and learn from the models they have in their lives, as set forth by Vygotsky, Bandura, and Brufee, I constantly keep in mind that my students could use everything I do and say as a model; therefore, I consciously use this modeling as a way of facilitating and guiding the construction of their knowledge as it relates to higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills by doing such things as thinking out loud, stopping often to clarify understanding, using Socratic questioning, challenging students to take a different stance than is natural to them, consistently using academic language and expecting the same from them, as well as edifying and encouraging reflective practice. I believe being a reflective writer and reader is a vital part of the goal-setting aspect of the writing process that enables a person not only to analyze a product, practice, or process, but to evaluate the goals of the writer and synthesize that reflection into a strong end result. Therefore, both peer evaluations and self-evaluations are key components of each major writing assignment.

Along with each writing assignment, as well as most other group activities, students will focus attention on the assignment’s rhetorical situation. I believe the most basic process of drawing students’ attention to the rhetorical situation is to evaluate the R.A.F.T. of the assignment (Role/Audience/Format/Topic Method developed by Nancy Vandervanter). What is their Role? (Who are they and what is their purpose?) Who is their audience? (What are the age, social class, education, experiences, cultures, and expectations of the audience?) What is the format of the writing? (What genre are they writing in, and what discourse conventions and expectations does the format contain?) Lastly, what is the topic they are addressing? (Is the topic broad or narrow? Is it appropriate to the audience?) Establishing the importance of the rhetorical situation is key.

With a focus on the development of students' cognitive awareness, critical thinking, collaborative abilities, reflective practice, and attention to the rhetorical situation throughout the semester, the greatest reward I have as a writing teacher is to see students grow in not only their writing ability but their sense of accomplishment and ownership as stronger writers and thinkers.