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"I want to better adapt to my students’ needs, to let them drive the agenda."
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Allison Dziuba (recommended by Jonathan Alexander) is a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). She teaches courses in the lower-division writing sequence, in person during the school year and online during the summer. She also teaches the Summer Bridge writing lab, a pre-college course for incoming UCI first-years. She has served as the editorial assistant for College Composition and Communication and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She is currently the Campus Writing & Communication Fellow at UCI. Allison's research interests include college students' self-sponsored literacy practices and extracurricular rhetorical education, and intersectional feminist approaches to rhetorical studies.
What is your greatest teaching challenge?
Time management. Whether I’m teaching a 50- or 80-minute class session, the time seems to fly by. I was advised early on to plan lessons around just one main point or activity. Planning more concise lessons allows me to better explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It also provides space for students to shape each class with their questions and interests. As a teacher, I want to better adapt to my students’ needs, to let them drive the agenda. In sketching out the full term, it’s important for me to set reasonable goals, too. Because my university is on the quarter system, we only have 10 weeks together as a class. I have to tailor my expectations based on this relatively limited time frame and prioritize the skills and experiences I hope will be most valuable to my students (more on this below).
What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?
I teach lower-division writing, which means that, for many of my students, our class is their first college-level writing experience. It’s often the smallest class that they’ve taken so far (around 20 students), so they have an opportunity to get to know their instructor and peers. Understanding that this is a potentially crucial moment in their undergraduate careers but also a brief and largely introductory one, I focus on rhetorical flexibility. That is, we aim to address the question, how does a rhetor craft messages in different genres and modes to communicate their purposes? I care deeply about what my students have to say, and so my hope is that helping to cultivate their rhetorical know-how will allow their voices to reach a variety of audiences. Students explore how they can shape communications and how messages move through the world; in so doing, they engage with the often overlapping communities to which they belong—home, college, local/regional, transnational, etc. This process of discovery animates my dissertation research as well—how do college students develop their rhetorical educations and their sense of belonging within campus and broader ecologies?
What is it like to co-design or work with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin's?
I’ve enjoyed working with the English composition editors because they’re knowledgeable about the world of writing instruction and they’re attentive to the needs of instructors. These traits, combined with their close familiarity with the Bedford catalogue, make for generative working relationships. For example, one of the workshops during the BNS summit was about developing writing assignments that are transparent in their aims—a topic that I and other teachers think about a lot—paired with a preview of a forthcoming book focused on tackling writing problems. Special kudos to Leah Rang and her team for organizing a virtual summit experience this summer that ran smoothly, covered a wide range of topics, and provided both graduate students and editorial staff opportunities to get to know one another and to ask each other productive questions about composition pedagogy.
What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?
I value the creativity and generosity of my BNS colleagues. In particular, I’m inspired by the assignments they’ve shared and their explanations of how these activities function in their classrooms. A few examples are Corinne’s gamification of teaching about the (potentially unintended) circulation and re-appropriation of texts, Kalyn’s step-by-step approach to analyzing rhetors’ source synthesis, and Sierra’s engagement of visual composition practices, as inspired by her pre–grad school career. I plan to incorporate elements of these activities into my own teaching practice. Overall, gathering this group of inquisitive, like-minded folks together for the summit lead to fruitful discussions about teaching and what we care about as teachers. These conversations and my peers’ commitment to their students will help to sustain my academic journey, and I hope to continue to cultivate these connections.
Allison’s Assignment that Works
During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Allison's assignment. For the full activity, see Opinion Barometer Activity
I’m sharing the “Opinion Barometer,” an in-class activity that aims to help students recognize the knowledges that they bring to the classroom and to explore nuances of rhetorical stances, beyond mere pro/con. I credit a fellow graduate student writing instructor with the spatial and interactive structure of the activity, and I’ve developed it over time to align with course assignments and to be relevant to the populations of students I’m teaching. Students are given statements or claims and are asked to move to a point in the classroom to indicate how much they agree or disagree with the statement. I’ve used this activity with first-year students who are encountering college-level courses and college life for the first time; the sample questions are crafted particularly with new college students in mind. I feel that the Opinion Barometer facilitates honest discussions about my students’ goals and expectations for their college careers. I’ve also used this as a warm-up activity before diving into an op-ed assignment. My intention is to boost students’ perceptions of their own expertise and to begin brainstorming topics that they have opinions about. I’d like to think more about how this activity could be adapted for an online teaching environment. Thanks to my fellow Bedford New Scholars for considering possible modifications. For instance, Sidney recommended gauging students’ opinions via an online poll and then asking them to write brief rationales for their positions.
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