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Jessica Nastal-Dema, Ph.D.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Fostering high-impact learning practices and student achievement defines my teaching; in fact, I
believe it is the crux of teaching first- and second-year coursework. Ultimately, my goal is for
students to emerge from my courses as confident in their abilities to shape meaning through
writing. In developmental courses, we might begin the semester with close reading techniques
and explication assignments. As we branch out, students encounter concepts of rhetorical
analysis and consider, for example, how an audience can affect the language and design choices
an author makes. We then move into using student writing as a text to be analyzed in the class,
which allows students to see the impact their writing has on readers and consider the choices
available to them as writers. As students develop their writing competence, they become more
comfortable asking critical questions about the course texts, within class discussions, and about
their own writing. Students become more confident in interacting with their world and
contributing their ideas to ongoing public and academic conversations, which I believe is crucial.
Histories of composition studies and writing assessment, demonstrated by the scholarship of
Norbert Elliot and Sharon Crowley, are fundamental to my teaching. A historical foundation
enabled me to recognize the complaint that Johnny Cant Write has been a recurring theme in
public discourse since the famous Harvard entrance exams. A historical approach allows me to
understand how literacy in the late nineteenth century marked intelligence, just as it continues to
do in the early twenty-first century, particularly as our higher education institutions welcome
increasingly diverse student bodies. In any class, I work with students to decode academic
discourse so they understand how it works, how to use it, and how to transform it. Sensitivity to
language is therefore central to my pedagogy as a writing teacher, drawing from the work of
James Berlin and Keith Gilyard on how language, writing, and the instruction of both are
inherently political acts.
A historical approach to composition pedagogy and writing assessment has also enabled me to
recognize the range of stakeholders involved in writing instruction within higher education.
Instructors do not just interact with students or administrators; we also interact with federal and
local policymakers, potential employers, faculty and staff members across campus, and
concerned parents. I believe it is imperative for English teachers and programs to collaborate on
an assessment loop, where instruction, curriculum, and assessment inform each other to
improve student learning. As Coordinator for Basic Writing, I helped revise student learning
outcomes to reflect our programs dedication to writing in electronic environments, and designed
a curriculum that offered students multiple means of experiencing, interacting, and
experimenting with their digital spaces. Colleagues responded enthusiastically as they were able
to fairly assess students work, and students appreciated the use of technology to better prepare
them for our class in addition to courses across campus.
While my research and pedagogy reflect a broad view of the field, my practice reflects close
interaction with and attention to students, represented by scholars including Mike Rose and bell
hooks. I believe in an individualized approach that is responsive to student concerns, which
students cite as motivation to take risks in their writing. As access to higher education continues
to be threatened nationwide, my convictions and passion for contextually-sensitive writing
instruction and assessment grow stronger.