What Does It Mean To Teach Writing?

Poe

Poe was a great writer. But what does the art of writing even mean?

“What do you teach?”

I often get asked this question when I tell people that I am a professor. My answer typically goes from “I teach English,” to the more specific “I teach writing.”

With the end of the semester fast approaching, I have thought about what it is that I teach. Yes, I teach writing. But what does that mean?

There are, of course, the many concepts that I incorporate and teach to my students. Bias, appeals, audience, tone, thesis, revision, peer review…these are seemingly standard fare in the particular course that I teach. I could get even more general and say that I teach students how to analyze a text, research a topic, and write about themselves in a thoughtful, self-reflective manner.

More than that, though, what I teach is critical thinking. Critical thinking may sound like a simple enough concept, but it’s actually rather complex in that it requires students to engage with a text and/or topic in a way that goes beyond simply reading and looking stuff up on the Internet. Critical thinking involves thinking beyond the self so as to widen the lenses individuals use to comprehend information. And it’s not just students who are tasked with this; as an instructor, I, too, have the responsibility to constantly view information and situations from different perspectives.

To answer the question I originally set out, I teach the product of many discussions, drafts, edits, revisions, and challenges: voice. Because to teach writing is to teach voice. How to have one and how to effectively use it.

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