We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. – Mother Teresa
As an instructor of composition, I strive to found all classroom interactions and course work on one primary guiding principal: a transferability of skills that engenders an outlook of interdisciplinarity in the minds of my students. The knowledge and experience gained in each of my courses is but a single drop in each student’s ocean of knowledge. Although some would trivialize the effect of something so small, once that drop enters the ocean, a powerful intermingling takes place. My approach to teaching facilitates this kind of meshing, demonstrating how writing, research, and critical reasoning are foundational skills for academic, professional, and civic pursuits. As my students exit the course, it is my goal to not only have equipped them with the tools necessary to continually improve their writing, but also to make them conscious of the way writing and research permeates all aspects of life, from their discipline specific studies to their global citizenship.
To ensure the transferability of the writing skills that I teach, I incorporate the perspectives of faculty from a broad spectrum of disciplines into my course’s major assignments. For instance, my first major assignment of the semester is a project called “Interview a Professor.” The “Interview a Professor” assignment asks the student to make an appointment with a faculty member in their respective discipline and ask them such questions as, “How does your research and writing effect your teaching?” and “What are two hotly debated topics in our discipline and what are the names of several peer-reviewed periodicals where I can read about these topics?” This project illuminates the ways that writing permeates their major discipline as well as acquainting them with exigent areas of inquiry within their potential major. This foundational project blossoms over the course of the semester into a full research-based action essay, a ten- page document – formatted within discipline specific guidelines – that posits an original argument within a larger critical context. I have purposefully designed these projects to demand textual rigger while simultaneously imparting discipline specific writing skills.
In addition to these discipline specific concerns, I also demonstrate the link between composition, research, and global citizenship by employing innovative assignments that require students to textually intervene in an urgent civic concern. My “Four Years From Now Mini Research Project” asks students to think past their undergraduate experience to the pressing concerns that they will have as newly degreed adults. These concerns could be anything from the structure of student loan repayment, to vaccinations for their unconceived children. After researching the topic, I require each student to write a research-based action statement that intervenes in the current debate, arguing for a course of action that will both benefit them as an individual and the global community as a whole. This project testifies to the importance that writing, reading, and research has for the students “post-academic” life, taking the ostensibly abstract concepts of the classroom and grounding them in the tangible.
Although my course represents but a single drop in an ocean of knowledge, I have purposefully structured my teaching so that the one-drop will permeate all areas of the student’s knowledge base. Fostering an interdisciplinary atmosphere in my classroom allows me to actively engage multiple forms of intelligence as well as create meaningful connections to discipline specific, local, and global concerns.
Timothy M. Ponce
Teaching, Scholarship, and Community