The Teaching Philosophy of Tiffany M. Jones

As an Anthropology, Linguistics and Composition scholar, I have a passion for helping others both observe and utilize communication in all its forms. If there is nothing else I can teach my students, one of my main objectives is to help them understand that any communication (i.e., verbal and non-verbal) must be constructed and analyzed with attention to audience and purpose – or the rhetorical situation.  Thus, I incorporate a variety of texts (both print and visual) where their goal is to identify and define how contextual factors influences the (in)appropriateness of a message. Particularly, I find the best teaching moments occur when we discuss various visual artifacts (e.g., commercials, political cartoons, speeches, and even art) in order to observe argumentation in non-academic arenas. Not only does this make students aware that all forms of communication are about finding what Aristotle describes as “the best available means of persuasion,” but it encourages students to question the world and arguments around them.

I also find it necessary to incorporate some form of writing into any course I teach; this practice stems from my work in Writing Across the Curriculum. Thus, I include graded and ‘non-graded’ assignments (e.g., blogs, journals, and field notes), which are used for epistemic and heuristic purposes—i.e., an opportunity to convey individual experience as well as make sense of scholarly texts.  This process allows students to become comfortable with the act of writing itself, helping them hone their communication skills without always having to worry about the end-product.  That said, for more complex writing assignments, I incorporate rounds of invention and revision to reinforce the idea of process writing. My goal is to show my students that ideas are never finished; there is always room to expand, re-think, and re-define our thoughts until it reaches the best scenario for our given purposes and audience.

My courses are also constructed to help students evaluate any act, including writing, speaking, and performance, based on their socio-cultural, political, and historical contexts. Because the making of ‘evidence’ and situating ‘appropriateness’ is culturally constructed, I challenge my students by having them analyze all communicative and performative acts in terms of their societal impact and influences. To achieve this, I incorporate readings of social theory as well as utilize real-world case studies, thought experiments, or ethical dilemmas. By prompting various classroom discussions or formal debates, I encourage them to make judgements about a scenario, establish a case / argument, and support it using the theories they have learned.

Lastly, I strive to connect with students in a one-on-one capacity, because I agree with Laurel Johnson Black’s (1998) assertion: “that conferencing is not just a part of teaching, it is teaching.  It is ‘individualized instruction,’ a way of ‘teaching’ students to react to their work.”  During this practical conversation, I can establish a rapport with my students, truly gauge their progress and/or limitations with course material, and help them workshop ideas for various assignments. Essentially, it is because of students’ positive response and salient improvements after the fact that I will continuously make conferencing an integral part of my courses.

Overall, I feel that learning is communal and involves participation from both the students and the instructor.  Thus, I believe it is counterproductive to lecture for an entire course; on the contrary, it is necessary that I step back and allow students the chance to explore their own thoughts, question concepts, and experiment with ideas.  Removing myself from the constant confines of lecturing makes them active participants in their own education. When I do, I am often amazed by what I learn from them. To witness my students’ growth, as they embrace and conquer new challenges or grow in confidence from mastering new skills, is my greatest joy as a professor.

**For more details on my teaching and professional experience, please click here to download my curriculum vitae.