Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Shari Hodges Holt, Ph. D.

My teaching philosophy is based on my belief that the activities of reading and writing help us construct meaning from our experiences by prompting us to think critically about our world; reading and writing challenge us to live rather than simply to exist. The study of English, therefore, makes us better readers and writers of human experience. To communicate this view to my students, I practice a subjective approach to composition and literature derived in part from reader response theory. My course assignments and classroom activities stress individual thought and the diversity of interpretive processes to assist students in cultivating the cognitive skills necessary for effective interpretation and communication. Throughout my teaching experience, I have endeavored to meet the following goals.

Promote critical thinking and creativity. Classroom participation and open class discussion are essential to my teaching method. In teaching literary texts, I emphasize the immense variety of interpretations possible; and while offering cultural, historical, and biographical contexts, as well as various critical interpretations of the texts from other readers, I encourage students to formulate and share their own responses in class discussions and writing assignments. To create an atmosphere of trust, I strive to demonstrate respect for all student responses; but I likewise challenge the students to support their views with evidence from the texts and to question the interpretations that I and other students propound. For composition assignments, I conduct "reader response workshops" in which students read and critique drafts of each other’s work. This collaborative-learning, "process-oriented" approach to composition teaches students to give and receive constructive criticism and allows them to take advantage of the critical abilities and varied interpretive approaches of their fellow classmates in making their own composition decisions.

Engage the students’ interest and demonstrate the relevance of reading and writing to their lives. I attempt to promote the students’ personal involvement with course assignments in several ways. In my literature classes, each student selects one of the course texts and opens the class discussion of that text with his/her own questions and choice of subject matter. My exam essays and writing assignments offer a wide range of topics, allowing students to choose subjects of individual interest or relate the literature they have studied to current social issues or personal experiences. I also use a variety of teaching supplements, including paintings, comic books, cartoons, music, and films, to enhance students’ engagement with literary texts. By examining the way popular culture appropriates and interprets literary works, students begin to see the works as "living" texts that become part of living, changing cultures. This intertextual emphasis assists students in recognizing the continuing power of literature and its relevance to their own lives.

Acknowledge and support each student as an individual learner. Even in large classes, I endeavor to give each student personal attention and become acquainted with his/her educational needs. For every writing assignment, I hold student/teacher conferences, and I make myself available for other meetings throughout the semester as the students require. I also try to insure that my interaction with students contributes to their sense of confidence in their reading and writing abilities. I welcome opportunities to see work that my students have done for other courses or to read their personal, nonacademic compositions. By projecting enthusiasm for my students’ work as well as for the subject I am teaching, I demonstrate to the students my dedication to them as individuals, which often inspires in them a greater dedication to the course.

Participate as a fellow learner with students. I have found that learning from students is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. While offering students the benefit of my knowledge and experience in my discipline, I encourage them to use that knowledge as a starting point for developing their own approaches to reading and writing; and I strive to indicate my willingness to revise my views and learn from my students’ discoveries. I believe that such receptivity fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect that is beneficial to teaching and learning. Student suggestions regarding my methods of instruction are also invaluable to me in improving the effectiveness of my teaching. For me, therefore, teaching is as much a process of learning as of instructing.

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