Teaching

Pedagogy Statement: The Both/And perspective

In her essay titled “Being Two Places at Once: Feminism and the Development of “Both/And” Perspectives”, the feminist scholar Donna Qualley rejects polemical binaries and “killer dichotomies”, in favour of becoming aware of similarities and differences between masculine and feminine modes of thought and knowledge. These are difficult to define, but the masculine mode is often associated with rationality, logical reasoning and linearity, while the feminine is often associated with emotion, intuition and non-linearity. 

Pertinent to Qualley’s discussion is the idea of “world-travelling”, where students both share their views of the world and listen to other perspectives or “the other side of the story”. She speaks of the “double perspective”, where students gain from learning what others think, and integrating this into their own perspective. Related to this is the idea of the contact zone in the classroom, where students confront themselves and the diverse perspectives of their classmates. In this way, collaborative work is conducted in a community of students who are both writers and readers, both actors and audience. 

For me, this resonates well in my life writing and creative writing practice, where empathy and mutual understanding is a goal. The poet John Keats coined the term ‘negative capability’ to indicate the practice of stepping into someone else’s shoes. The goal of a biographer is not necessarily to become the subject, but to complete what Richard Holmes in his book This Long Pursuit, calls a handshake, a “simple act of complex friendship”, “across time, but also across cultures, across beliefs, across disciplines, across genders, and across ways of life.” With this metaphor, he extended Sylvia Plath’s conception of a poem as a closed fist and a novel as an open hand. It would be enormously gratifying for me, if my students were to embark on similar journeys in their research and writing.

The Both/And perspective seeks to give creative writing equal weightage alongside logical thinking and reasoning in a composition course. For even though I spent my entire undergraduate life writing argumentative essays in analytic philosophy, I believe in the idea of writing from “an interrogatory rather than argumentative stance”, as Fiscus-Cannaday and Watson argued in their essay on feminist and genre-based approaches to multimodal composition. My course syllabi are also inspired by Stacey Waite’s essay Becoming the Loon, which describes her use of the body as text. It is important to acknowledge how student perceptions and encounters with the university are often mediated by their teachers. As a powerful account of how one might role model for students, the idea that it is okay and worthy to pursue “layered, dialectical, even contradictory interpretations” is elaborated on and justified in Waite’s essay.

In her essay Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict, Susan Jaratt further argued for the value of thinking in terms of confrontation and debate in addition to self-discovery through personal narratives.  For me, the ideal goal of my proposed course is really, for students to ultimately confront themselves, confront their situations, and confront others. Through this confrontation, students begin to develop and refine their writing skills, but further than this, they gain an appreciation and awareness of the importance of commitment, focus, collaboration, and above all, play in writing. Awareness of the value of intersecting thinking and writing, as well as reason and emotion, leads back to the idea of a “Both/And” perspective. 

As a creative writer and life writer working within the setting of the academy, I am keen to promote alternative forms of discourse, and to encourage my students to write in ways that might not be conventionally understood as “academic” or “scholarly”. Because creative thinkers often utilise synthetic and intuitive approaches to their thinking, it may appear to be nonlinear or non-logical. However, these are nevertheless legitimate modes of thought. 

This echoes Jacyln Fiscus-Cannaday and Sophia Watson’s idea that “a paper doesn’t necessarily have to be argumentative”. For a paper can also be reflective, personal and creative. Likewise, in her essay, Bridwell-Bowles argued that the forms of texts must reflect differences in thinking, whether cultural, gendered, or otherwise. It is a political act, but one that can be transformative, for what academic discourse and scholarship is perceived as legitimate. 

My teaching aims to certainly include, preparing students to write effectively for a variety of audiences and contexts, and to be able to transfer their skills to a work-place setting. But I also believe in the intrinsic value of the humanities, and what the humanities bring to the table. I believe that what distinguishes the humanities from other disciplines, are qualitative methodology and subjectivity, or a personal point of view. These are important, because, it is through narratives, phenomenological approaches, and qualitative methods that the mind— its cognitive, creative and emotional aspects— is awakened. And it is through the lens of individual perspectives that we can truly utilise the power of stories, to touch, heal, inspire, and provoke thought. 

As Bridwell-Bowles wrote, “Perhaps with time, poststructuralist revolutions in thinking about our culture will influence our language so much that we will come to see personal writing, nonlinear patterns of organization, writing that contains emotion, writing that closes the gap between subject and object, writing that does something “with” and not “to” the reader, and all the other possibilities yet to come as having equal status with carefully reasoned, rational argument.” (Bridwell-Bowles: 352, my emphasis)

This generally reflects the idea that knowledge comes from many sources. While working at the Asian University for women, both in my courses and at the Writing Center, I worked with young women, many of them marginalised and underprivileged. I also mentored students who were former garment factory workers and refugees from Afghanistan. As an Asian woman with Chinese privilege in my home country, it has been essential to me, that I use my privilege to assist others – whether first-generation college students, low-income students, or minority students by virtue of gender, sexual orientation or disability, to contribute to a more diverse academic community. 

I come with an attitude to learning from my students, and indeed, I would say that I learnt a great deal from my students while teaching life writing at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong. bell hooks wrote that, “Let’s face it: most of us were taught in classrooms where styles of teachings reflected the notion of a single norm of thought and experience, which we were encouraged to believe was universal.”[1] My view is that a diverse classroom where students and teachers can learn from one another creates an ultimately more generative and meaningful experience for all concerned. 

This idea of diversity extends to language as well as form. Suresh Canagarajah, in his essay on World Englishes, argued for the importance of recognising Englishes other than British and American English in the composition classroom[2]. This, coupled with Cruz Medina’s argument that “multilingual students experience monolingual ideology in their education, which undermines their abilities to communicate, make meaning, and be effective writers.”[3], highlights for me the urgent need to include other languages in a composition context. 

As someone who comes from a multilingual environment, I find this a particularly compelling approach to pedagogy. For if students are marginalised and alienated from the classroom because of language as traditionally used in academic contexts, it serves no other function than exclusion, particularly of disadvantaged and underprivileged students. Thus, I would want to encourage the use of World Englishes in my classroom. In a Singaporean classroom, for example, I would encourage students to turn in essays that include the careful use of four languages embedded in an essay that is typically submitted in Standard English, to reflect the multicultural environment that they live in. By recommending the book parsetreeforestfire by Hamid Roslan, a Singaporean writer whose work is centered on language, I hope that my students will be inspired to use multiple languages in their writing. Again, this aligns well with the “Both/And” perspective and approach to pedagogy. 

In general, my class exercises are open-ended and designed to challenge students of all levels, including those who may be underprivileged and therefore perceived to be “less prepared” than other students. As a teacher, my pedagogical emphasis lies squarely in the tradition of writing as process and not writing as product. In my classes, we do not dwell on perfection, but focus instead on learning and growing as individuals and as a community. In my life writing classes specifically, I expose my students to rounds of revision and feedback. Peer review is also an important feature of the feminist approach to my course, which allows students to engage in collaborative learning, to “build community and receive feedback on ideas”[4].

Further, weekly assignments are critical to fostering regularity in writing, and in the articulation and expression of ideas, thoughts and perspectives. As such, my students will be expected to submit weekly assignments. Where it is possible, such as in small classes, because feedback is so important for writers, I provide weekly informal feedback, and individual conference meetings with each student in the class. To ensure sufficient depth of feedback in my creative writing classes, each student will have at least 15-20 minutes of class time to share their written work with the class and obtain feedback from their classmates as well as myself. The students are divided into groups and the groups are rotated so that everyone has an opportunity to get their feedback. 

And because it is important for every student to have the opportunity to consolidate their learning, I practise specific ways to ensure that I can monitor what students have gained during their time in the course and what else they need to work on. For example, I use the “one-minute paper” exercise as described by R.C. Wilson, where students must write down what they feel they have learnt or gained from the class, and what areas they need to know more of. This is followed up with a class discussion on the most frequently asked questions and concerns. When I conducted this exercise in my classes, I was able to have input from even the most quiet of students, thus allowing everyone to be heard in class. 

References

Bridwell-Bowles, Lillian. “Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy”. CCC 43.3, 1992: 349 – 68

Canagarajah, Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition”. College Composition and Communication. Vol. 57, No. 4, 2006: 586 – 619

Fiscus-Cannaday, Jaclyn and Watson, Sophie. “English 382: Special Topics in Multimodal Composition”. Composition Studies. 47.2 (2019): 181 – 192

Holmes, Richard. This Long Pursuit. Pantheon Books, 2016.

Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 1994.

Jaratt, Susan C. “Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict”. Contending with Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Post-Modern Age. Eds. Harkin, Patricia and Schilb, John. Modern Language Association, 1991: 105-23.

Johnson, Patrick E. “Queer epistemologies: Theorising the Self from a Writerly Place called Home”. Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly. 34.3, 2011: 429-446

Malashewski, Kyle. UHM ENG100 Course Syllabus. Unpublished, 2020. 

Medina, Cruz. “Decolonial Potential in a Multilingual FYC”. Composition Studies. 47.1, 2019: 73 – 94.

Micciche, Laura. “Feminist Pedagogies”. A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, Eds: Tate, Gary et al. Oxford U.P., 2014, 2001.

O’Neill, Michael. John Keats in Context (Literature in Context). Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Qualley, Donna. “Being Two Places at Once: Feminism and the Development of “Both/And” Perspectives”. Pedagogy in the Age of Politics: Writing and Reading (in) the Academy, Eds: Sullivan, Patricia and Qualley, Donna. NCTE, 1994.

Waite, Stacey. “Becoming the Loon”. Writing on the Edge. 19.2, 2009: 53 – 68

Wilson, R.C. “Improving Faculty Teaching”. Journal of Higher Education. Vol.57, 1986: 192 – 211


[1] Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 1994.

[2] Canagarajah, Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition”. College Composition and Communication. Vol. 57, No. 4, 2006: 586 – 619 

[3] Medina, Cruz. “Decolonial Potential in a Multilingual FYC”. Composition Studies. 47.1, 2019: 73 – 94. 

[4] Fiscus-Cannaday, Jaclyn and Watson, Sophie. “English 382: Special Topics in Multimodal Composition”. Composition Studies. 47.2 (2019): 181 – 192

In 2018, I taught courses on life writing (autobiography, biography and memoir) to over 50 first year undergraduates, as part of their core curriculum studies at the Asian University for Women.

I’ve also facilitated workshops and given talks on creative writing (non-fiction).

In 2013, I taught communications and writing, including CV writing and report writing, to students at Singapore Polytechnic.

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