Growing up in Virginia, where the culture has been shaped by European colonists’ systematic displacement and destruction of many Native Americans, my understanding of Indigenous cultures was shaped by a fixed discourse of absence. So, when a professor in a sophomore-level science class at the University of Maryland claimed that Europeans caused the extinction of the entire Tasmanian population, I was horrified but not surprised. When, on the other hand, Professor Jason Rudy emphatically denied this extinction myth the following fall, my world view shifted as I was confronted with a counter-narrative that introduced contestability and multiplicity into the conversation. As a result, I developed an interest in colonizing and decolonizing discourses and the ways they not only relay knowledge but also produce it.
The contestability of ideas is central to my engagement with students as community-situated thinkers. I have been fortunate to work as a mentor and teaching assistant for first-year composition courses at UH Mānoa, where I have begun to develop my own pedagogy,one that focuses on student self-efficacy and interdisciplinary writing as a pathway toward empowering students as critical thinkers and as members of multiple, interdependent communities. Once they understand their ideas to be changeable,I can ask students to engage with their own positionality within colonial and postcolonial discourses. Moving forward, I would like to continue my work in composition pedagogy and also develop a literature pedagogy that situates storied discourse within a larger understanding of how students engage with Victorian literature.
My approach to teaching writing starts with student self-efficacy. Moving beyond the individual control and task oriented models as defined by scholars like Bandura and Zimmerman, I focus on self-efficacy as a collaborative practice. Students develop the self in terms of community responsibility, relational idea formation, and habitual practice.In his critique of expressivist and technocratic process, as envisioned by Flowers and Hayes, Joseph Harris calls for “a dialogic sense of revision.” Inso doing he equates revision, a self-regulating process, with conversation, a collaborative one. I focus on habitual revision with my own students to facilitate this kind of work, in which students develop self-regulating habits through practice in order to better understand their own relationship to a community or communities.
In Spring 2018, I was mentoring for a first-year composition class comprising entirely transfer students. Most of them had completed a first-year writing course at another university and had moved beyond “basic” writing skills. When we asked them to revise, however,they struggled to really engage with their own work. In response, I went back through my own revision process, asking myself what I look for and what kinds of revision habits I have formed. Using Costa and Kallick’s habits of mind as a model, I came up with a five step process: identify repeated mistakes, identify thesis statement, reverse outline with focus on evidence and analysis, connect each paragraph back to the thesis, develop transitions. Using this process, I ask my students to go through at least four drafts. They work with peers, then with me, then on their own to build a revision habit. By the end, students report feeling more comfortable with writing and revision, and, in the transfer course, we saw more interaction during group workshops held in preparation for their final research paper. They learned to engage more critically with their own writing so they could recognize the kinds of questions, critiques, and strategies that allow them to help others and to productively seek help.
I have found that, as students practice revision, they begin to develop their own process and take control of their writing. They are able to apply what they learn in the writing classroom to their communication in other courses and in the community. My goal for students is that they be able to engage critically with their own ideas in order to creatively collaborate with individuals and communities. Reading, writing,and revision then become a means toward the end of collaboration.
With students from a number of different educational and cultural backgrounds, and often from different departments, I focus on revision as a way for students to bring their own goals and interests into their writing while still learning to become better writers. I hope that students will become better readers and critics while still working within their fields of interest. In the writing classroom, this reading happens with their own writing and with the writing of their peers, but in the literature classroom, it happens with the texts of the class. While I would not ask them to, for instance, reverse outline a novel in a Victorian literature course, I would expect them to collaborate with the text. In other words, I look at relational idea formation in the production of the text and in the students’relationships with the text.
In my own research, production is as important as consumption in studying colonial discourses in literature. I am interested in what happens when Indigenous theories of orality, silence, and empowerment are put in conversation with Victorian studies and postcolonial theory. By putting Indigenous discourses in conversation with Euro-American ones and showing how they work together in the novel, I hope to contribute to an understanding of colonial discourse as multiple and flexible and, as such,contestable. Working from Robert L. Scott’s theory of rhetoric as epistemic, I ask students to question what they read and what they write, while understanding that ideas are relational. Especially within postcolonial studies, I feel it is important for students to understand how they rely on genealogies of thought in their own work and how those genealogies can be revised and augmented to disrupt hegemonic discourses.
Through my studies in Aotearoa and Hawai‘i, I have been introduced to a methodology that encourages scholars to imaginatively inhabit pre-European, colonial, and postcolonial (or neocolonial) spaces through literary and cultural studies, as well as their own and others’ lived experiences. I hope to expand on and use this integrated approach in my own research and with my students to work toward decolonizing the study of Empire and its legacies.