English 833: Theories of Composition — Your Teaching Vision Statement

The Dartmouth Conference: An Early Vision for Teaching English

In 1966, leaders in English Studies from the United States and England met at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire to discuss the teaching of English. The purpose of the seminar was to define English by answering the question “What Is English?” and then to outline the ways it might best be taught. The overarching call of the seminar was to modernize the English curriculum.

The 1999 Conference on Composition and Communication (CCCC): A Technology-focused Vision for Teaching English

Similar calls have followed. In 1999 Cynthia Selfe served as the President of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). In her presidential address at the annual conference, Selfe said: “Literacy alone is no longer our business. Literacy and technology are. Or so they must become” (later published in Selfe’s book Technology And Literacy In The 21st Century: The Importance Of Paying Attention- Studies In Writing And Rhetoric, p. 3). In a related call, Hugh Burns laid out a credo for teaching English in the 21st century. He outlined this on p. xv in his “Foreword” to Selfe’s book.

The IUP Conference: A New Vision for Teaching English Studies in the 21st Century

It’s been almost two decades since Selfe’s call and over 50 years since the Dartmouth Conference. Times change, but the question remains: How should we teach English today? You have been invited to attend an exciting composition conference being hosted by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The world’s leading experts on composition and applied linguistics will all be there. Such illustrious figures as Dr. Gloria Park, Dr. Dana Driscoll, Dr. David Hanauer, Dr. Cristina Sánchez-Martin, Dr. Matthew Vetter, and Dr. Daniel Weinstein will all be there. It’s even rumored that the renegade scholar Dr. Gian Pagnucci may be in attendance. The last time Dr. Pagnucci showed up at a major conference, he was dressed in a superhero costume and telling everyone they needed to teach writing using comic books. So if he attends, there’s sure to be trouble.

Luckily, you’ve been invited to the conference too because of your growing reputation as an eager new scholar. As part of the work of the conference, you’ve been asked to join a group of other scholars working to develop a new Vision for Teaching English Studies in the 21st Century. Each scholar on the team has been asked to develop an individual Vision Statement that will be added to the collective document to form a new, collaborative understanding of how English Studies should be taught for today’s students.

As you work to write your Vision Statement, be sure to think carefully about the thoughts and concerns raised by the students in the ethnographic video made produced by Michael Wesch’s class. Also consider your own students and their needs. Consider, as well, your own experiences as a learner and the experiences of your classmates.

On Terminology and Bold Visions

Vision statements are also sometimes called Teaching Philosophies, Teaching Credos, and Teaching Manifestos. Each term has a slightly different meaning. What’s valuable about the word “vision” is that it is meant to help you see the world of education with fresh eyes. Look boldly and write forcefully. There’s no point in developing a timid or stale vision. Anyone could do that. You’ve been brought to the IUP Conference to show you can be a leader!

Sample Credo Statement

To help you get started writing your own statement, take a moment to read over this simple teaching credo written by J.M. Holland. Holland offers some important thoughts on the value of writing a credo:

Why Vision Statements Are Important

A vision statement helps to crystallize what you believe at this moment in time. The act of writing a vision statement also prompts you to commit to something, to choose a set of values, at least temporarily.

Written in the right spirit, a vision statement can also be of use long term, as Holland observes. It can be a statement you return to in future years as a prompt to keep pushing yourself to grow and develop as a teacher, as a scholar, and as a person.

Yes, but why now?

Why start your time in the Graduate Studies in Composition and Applied Linguistics (CAL) Program by writing a vision statement? Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Isn’t it too early to write this? Don’t I need to read more? Don’t I need to learn more? Aren’t I just a graduate student who doesn’t have anything important to say and no authority with which to say it? How can I do this?”

Don’t worry. We picked you for the CAL Program because we want to know what you think. We want to hear what you have to say. We want to hear your voice. We want to speak and write your beliefs.

So start now, boldly, to think about why you want to be an English teacher. Why does that matter? Why did you pick this profession? What do you believe?

By voicing your most important beliefs about teaching English, your vision, you will have a firm place to start from which to undertake the journey toward the mountain of your doctoral degree. Keep walking toward that mountain. You will learn lots of things along the way. Maybe a lot of your beliefs and values will change. That’s ok. Change can be a good thing. But your core beliefs about teaching are likely to keep driving you forward. Use those values to help you keep going to becoming the best teacher you can be.

That’s what this assignment is about. It is about stating your vision for teaching English.

Drafting Your Teaching Vision Statement

Spend a few minutes just thinking about your beliefs regarding the teaching of English. Pause and ponder.  Think about what really matters to you. What is English? Why is teaching English important? Close your eyes. Reflect.

After taking some time to reflect, start writing. You need to produce a 1 page document before the final IUP conference group meeting. When you are finished, you should have created A Vision for Teaching English Studies in the 21st Century.

Vision Statement Parameters

  • Your Vision Statement should be 1 page in length.
  • Your Vision Statement should be in a 12 point font, single-spaced.
  • Please use paragraph breaks or, even better, headings for your key ideas.

Possible Points for Reflections

As you work, consider the questions below. These questions are meant to be guiding questions. You do not have to answer all of these questions. This is meant to be your vision, so create it however it feels best to do that. You can focus on the big picture and discuss English studies generally or narrow in on the teaching of composition in particular. You might even discuss both. Write about whatever fits within your vision.

  • What are 3 of your fundamental beliefs about learning English?
  • What are 3 of your fundamental beliefs about teaching English?
  • What should be a teacher’s basic approach to teaching composition?
  • How should literacy pedagogy respond to today’s world and to today’s learners?
  • Discuss how your vision for teaching literacy addresses the needs of World English speakers.

Wondering How to Start?

You may approach this task however you want. One simple way, though, is to think about some of your core beliefs related to English studies and composition. Start with those basic beliefs and work from there. It might go something like this:

An English Studies Vision Statement

  • I believe you can’t teach someone to write unless you teach them what it means to have a reader.
    • I believe technology is how you link student writers to real readers.

Guides to Writing a Teaching Vision/Philosophy Statement

A Few More Sample Vision Statements