Teaching Philosophy

[Rachael Zeleny] takes assignments long beloved by writing teachers to new heights; the in-class magazine turned out recently by some of her advanced students is absolutely jaw-dropping in its visual sophistication and the amount of research it weaves together in its pages. I remember that, when looking through this text, I was struck by how hard they– both the students and Ms. Zeleny  — must have worked to realize this project. And, as her course evaluations make clear, they work this hard because they want to – in their evaluations, her students repeatedly express their enthusiasm for her courses and their gratitude that they had the opportunity to learn so much.- Dr. Melissa Ianetta, Writing Program Administrator, University of Delaware

Testimonies from Faculty Members who have consulted with me to improve Writing Pedagogy across the disciplines:


For nearly a decade, I have begun the school year by asking myself what I can do to make my courses engaging and relevant to my students, while continuing to provide them with the skills they need to become effective communicators. While I continually adapt my materials to suit my students’ needs, my goals are consistent: I wish my students to be 1) sensitive readers who can interpret both verbal and nonverbal texts; 2) civically engaged critical thinkers who can locate themselves within their own socio-historical context; and 3) versatile writers who can effectively communicate with their peers, with me, with their instructors in other disciplines, and with future employers. In the classroom— high school or collegiate, composition or literature, undergraduate or graduate—I believe that a class thrives when the students trust the intentions of the instructor. As my consistently high teaching evaluations and departmental teaching award demonstrate, students understand that helping them to succeed is my first priority.

Drawing upon my own undergraduate background as a double major in Art and English Literature, I have developed an acute sensitivity to the relationship between image and word. My graduate career in Rhetoric and Composition has furthered my understanding of how the verbal and nonverbal interact. Thus, my students and I often perform collective close readings of texts ranging from poems, to student research papers and peer-reviewed journals to paintings, Facebook pages, YouTube videos and public service announcements. In one introductory assignment, students conduct a rhetorical analysis of their own Facebook page, drawing conclusions about the type of public persona they have created based on the visual and textual material they have or have not chosen to present. Assignments like this initiate larger discussions of “reading,” by asking students to broaden their concept of “text” and increase their sensitivity to the genre and history of the information they absorb.

Developing this reading lens allows students to better see the world with which they are familiar, and thus prepares them to analyze their location within the larger socio-historical context and create texts across a number of genres including peer reviews, research papers, business proposals with visual components and online materials. My composition course revolves around a research paper in which students are required to choose and analyze a controversial magazine cover. This assignment requires research into the history of an image as well as a close reading that encourages students to engage with the controversy from their own perspectives. For instance, one student investigated the New Yorker cover, which featured Barack Obama in traditional Muslim garb, in order to discuss the ways in which Islamophobia is perpetuated in America. As their final project for this course, students reframe this research paper into a public service announcement, in which they both create the text and choose accompanying music, sound effects, and visuals. Repeatedly, my students tell me that this project, in its many stages, is the most complex and rewarding writing experience they have yet to have during their academic careers. Assignments such as this not only encourage us to embrace diversity in the classroom but also cater to writers of all levels.

Practicing writing in a number of different genres to address a number of different communities allows students to feel confident in their ability to create arguments in any forum. Whether as readers, researchers or writers, my students work collaboratively, so that they will benefit from the experience of solving problems with others from various academic disciplines and social backgrounds. The emphasis on reading and creating texts that rely on visual rhetoric, in particular, prepares students especially well for the world in which we live today. While the nature of information changes by the second, I believe instructors should be the constant factor, providing students with the skills to interpret the material they encounter and the skills to effectively and intelligently contribute to the conversation.

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