We write not as isolated individuals but as members of communities whose beliefs, concerns, and practices both instigate and constrain, at least in part, the sorts of things we can say. Our aims and intentions in writing are thus not merely personal, idiosyncratic, but reflective of the communities to which we belong. —Joseph Harris, “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing”

In every composition class I teach, my goal is to help students recognize that they are participants of multiple communities, rooted both in the geographic and the social, and that these communities are comprised of particular conventions that participants must learn to negotiate if they are to meaningfully contribute to them. Every activity—from small-group peer conferencing to class field trips to reading responses to conversations about grammar and linguistics—reinforces the connections between community and writing. This attention to community is characteristic of “place-based” pedagogies that encourage students to become ethnographers and to explore the communities they inhabit, including their hometowns, dorms, online social networks, churches, physics labs, homeless shelters where they volunteer, and law firms where they hope to someday practice, and to interrogate the conventions, relations, and participants within them. My teaching and my scholarship align: both emphasize the importance of creating assignments that tap into students’ everyday lived experiences in order to make writing more relevant and meaningful.

And so we explore in my classes. Asking my students to write about their communities means having them visit and then revisit those communities, each time with a more inquisitive eye. For one assignment in my introductory writing classes, I send them to the same place on campus but at different times throughout the day; we then come together in class to compare their observations of this place and to consider its function within the campus culture. This assignment sets them up for the next assignment, when they set out to observe a place and describe its history, connection to the city and campus, and meaning in their own lives. Students have argued for the preservation of green space at Boston College, described the events that go on behind the stage of Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan, and urged the government to create safer traffic conditions in Saigon. In another version of this class, we focus on the culture of food, analyzing the production, distribution, and consumption of food and tapping into issues such as class, race, culture, and the environment. Students still root themselves in particular places, but their focus is on food. I have received papers on the importance of reforming the national school lunch program, the negative impact of fast food on the Caribbean culture, and Korea’s innovative efforts at preventing food waste. In my advanced writing classes, students choose one community and argue about an issue from different rhetorical modes, including narrative, causal, and proposal. In all of my classes, students take one essay and transform it into an oral/visual project, learning in the process how to select what material to keep and what material to set aside and also how to switch up their rhetoric in order to make their argument more effective to an audience that will be listening rather than reading.

In my professional writing classes, students develop their job portfolio, create personal-professional websites for themselves, and learn how to write memos and letters of complaint. They also spend six weeks working in small groups on a project in which they decide on an issue on campus that they would like to address and then conduct primary and secondary research and propose a solution. Such issues typically address a need, such as the need for a campus convenience store, an updated computer facility, or a database that connects students with tutors across all disciplines. Students also research the vocational communities they hope to someday inhabit: they collect and analyze “artifacts,” such as journal articles and syllabi; conduct interviews with professionals in the field; and assess the ways they must prepare themselves to participate in these communities.

Place frames the conversations I have with my students about grammar and style as well. I take a prescriptive and descriptive approach, which involves lessons in the history of American English and encourages cross-cultural comparisons and conversations about academic disciplines and conventions. Place-based pedagogy engages the wide variety of students I teach, from traditional undergraduates to ESL students to adult learners. No matter their backgrounds, students have experienced negotiating the codes and conventions of various communities. That goes for our classroom community as well; part of my aim is to demystify the codes and conventions of academia, through other activities such as peer conferencing, student-led discussions, and deep revision, for all of my students and particularly for those whose backgrounds or learning needs might make their experiences in academia challenging. By the end of the semester, my students have learned how to assess the conventions of their professional, academic, and extracurricular communities; to think in terms of “global” and “local” issues when peer conferencing and when revising and to be meta-cognitive about their writing processes; to identify the ethos, logos, and pathos at work in an argument; and to transform their written work into engaging oral presentations.

This level of engagement and inquiry translates to my literature classes as well. As in my composition classes, I teach my students how to engage with texts, honing their close reading skills and assigning in-class writing assignments that help them connect with the themes and texts. Students help lead discussions, work together in groups, and translate a written project into a visual/oral project at the end of the semester so that they can learn to negotiate generic conventions and, in my American Autobiography course, so they think about how they to present their own autobiography and then situate it among the others we read throughout the semester.

Each semester, in all of my classes, students remark that there is “a lot” of work. This is true. However, my consistently high course evaluations indicate that ultimately they appreciate this work. At the end of the semester, students have developed their critical reading and writing skills and learned as well how they can inform and also promote change in their communities through their writing and how they can come to appreciate American literature through the genre of autobiography.


Below I include brief descriptions of some the courses--along with their corresponding syllabi--that I have taught at Boston College, University of Michigan, and Wesleyan College.

English 101 (Wesleyan) is an introductory level composition course. The theme of the sections I teach is "the culture of food":

Shultz English 101 S12.pdf Shultz English 101 S12.pdf
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Type : pdf

English 265, or Professional Writing, is a course I taught at Michigan and introduced into the curriculum at Wesleyan:

Shultz ENG 265 Syllabus.pdf Shultz ENG 265 Syllabus.pdf
Size : 135.943 Kb
Type : pdf

English 356, or Advanced Argument, is also a course I taught at Michigan and transferred to Wesleyan:

English 356 Syllabus.pdf English 356 Syllabus.pdf
Size : 144.51 Kb
Type : pdf

Literary Forms is an introductory course at Boston College, and the theme I selected was American Autobiography:

Shultz American Auto Syll.pdf Shultz American Auto Syll.pdf
Size : 110.403 Kb
Type : pdf

 English 111, or Reading and Writing about Literature, is a survey course:

Shultz ENG 111 S12.pdf Shultz ENG 111 S12.pdf
Size : 159.815 Kb
Type : pdf

Writing 101 is a basic writing course. This syllabus closely resembles my syllabus for the ESL courses that I teach:

Shultz WRT 101 S 12 .pdf Shultz WRT 101 S 12 .pdf
Size : 185.082 Kb
Type : pdf
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