I encourage my students to strengthen previously learned skills through interaction in a decentralized social environment. Students might brainstorm or freewrite alone, review each other's papers in small groups or participate in class discussions about literary themes or a writer's particular topic interests. For example, in a special topics course on Hemingway, students might work in small groups to discover how Hemingway's terse writing style enhances his religious motifs. Although tasks such as class debates (to develop argumentative skills) and freewrites on a particular aspect of a text (such as Hemingway's use of repetitive images) may be student- and not teacher-centered, I consistently engage with my students to ensure that each one understands the material or assignment. However, the desire to build on these skills poses a challenge since students come from a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds. I am a social constructivist: teachers should remain aware of diversity and remain open-minded and flexible.
Stimulating texts enable my students to strengthen their own literary knowledge and writing skills. Students can develop opinions while absorbing and reacting to texts that focus on a specific literary movement or topic. For example, students can evaluate social, racial or gender differences intertextually; many of these differences also can apply to events in their own lives. Students can compare current multicultural and racial tensions with those portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald's story, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" and in James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. They also can examine their own and others' migration stories in the United States by probing a variety of immigrant texts such as Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers, Li Young Lee's Winged Seed, and Willa Cather's My Ántonia.
In order to build a bridge between what students read and what they write, I often require a variety of writing assignments ranging from in-class freewrites to brief reading responses to in-depth analytic papers, all the while encouraging my students to develop their individual voices and opinions and to consider an audience other than a professor. Scaffolded class sessions or units, each of which focuses on a specific genre or theme, allow students to understand the purpose of each assignment and how the assigned tasks relate to one another and to the course as a whole. These various assignments help students to generate ideas for class discussions as well as for longer papers and allow me to gain a stronger sense of students' writing levels. I can then make comments or suggestions that push for more analysis or a stronger main idea. As a result, as students obtain immediate and ongoing reinforcement of their strengths and weaknesses, they become more comfortable with the writing process. Students can then focus with more confidence on the relationship between their own writing and others' works, experiment with persuasive or argumentative tones of writing and enhance their research skills.
I give my students opportunities to continue improving their critical and writing skills through revision. For example, I sometimes offer students a chance to turn in an optional, additional revision of a paper. I also emphasize that revision encompasses more than correcting mechanical errors, such as sentence fragments or misspelled words. Revision entails examining the content, the authority of the writer and the coherency of paragraphs.
Since students are constituents of their backgrounds, this factor results in a diversity of levels of writing. One-on-one conferences, which are a crucial element of the English curriculum, allow me to individually assist students with concerns or questions, whether about citations, revision techniques or topic choices. In addition, these bimonthly meetings are students' opportunity to talk; I should not take a directive approach.
Teachers undercut their intentions to help students improve their writing skills when they take a directive approach to papers, so I endeavor to respond as a reader, not as an authoritative figure with set ideas of the perfect paper. My comments should assist, not hinder, my students when they revise. In addition, I do not simply edit grammar mistakes and judge students' papers based on paragraph structure. Evaluation encompasses many aspects of writing, including the writer's approach and style.
Finally, I use computers in the classroom to improve students' reading and writing skills through brainstorming activities, online small-group sessions and web-based research exercises. I use writing-based software such as Blackboard and Microsoft Word.