Phil Bratta

 

Philosophy

I believe educational interactions should do two things: (1) enable students to voice their experiences; and (2) foster connections in and between communities. Developed through my experiences teaching and tutoring at five different institutions in the last nine years, I have drawn my philosophy from bell hooks’ work in Teaching to Transgress where hooks remarks, “[c]ommitment to engaged pedagogy carries with it the willingness to be responsible” to acknowledge our “power to change the direction of our students’ lives.” With an engaged pedagogy in the teaching of writing, rhetoric, and communication, I encourage students to write, think, and act in ways that build bridges that have positive impact on their communities and other communities. This approach works toward empowering and/or helping underserved and misrepresented communities and populations.

To build bridges in and between communities, teaching should steer students toward reflective and reflexive critical thinking. For example, I typically begin a semester by asking students to identify their cultural experiences in a variety of contexts: home, school, social spaces, co-curricular activities, and so forth. Next, I propose critical questions — revisited throughout the semester — that examine writing and rhetorical practices in those contexts. Some initial questions might be:

  • How would you describe your culture?
  • What would you consider to be your everyday cultural practices?
  • What is expected of you in your cultural spaces and places?
  • What kinds of beliefs and values are expressed through speech, writing, and images in these spaces and places?

With these questions as a backdrop, I prompt students to take the lead as they reflect on, critique, and build knowledge from their experiences, the texts we read, and the writing they compose.

My courses build on this reflective and reflexive civic engagement with and through digital technology and multimodal composing. In working with multimodality, students better understand how their writing and rhetoric can circulate across various contexts and be produced in various mediums to reach certain communities. For instance, at Michigan State, students in my Introduction to Professional Writing course worked with the Refugee Development Center in Lansing, Michigan. First, we discussed and reviewed language used in popular culture to understand that refugees’ stories matter. Then, the students consulted with the Center’s director and interviewed employees and volunteers to critically assess the rhetorical situation and practice rhetorical listening for their needs and stories. Over the course of the project, students reflected upon their embodied subjectivity and considered the relationship between their privileges and experiences and the Center’s employees and clients (re: refugees). This continual reflection created a space where students were more culturally aware of the language they used in the final products. Working from this reflection and the Center’s needs, students also considered design, usability, and purpose as they composed eight digital RDC newsletters for the Center and the public. Additionally, throughout the project, I had students strategize ways to circulate publicly the newsletters to have the greatest social impact, a way to make clear that writing, rhetoric, and communication can be a form of active citizenship particularly in regards to digital technology use and multimodal composing.

This is just one example in one course I’ve taught. But across my varied experiences in teaching, I practice engaged pedagogy to encourage students to see connections between rhetoric, multimodal composing, and democratic participation. For instance, with a Professional Communication for Engineers course at University of Florida, I integrated the social arts activism project One Million Bones, which addressed historical and current genocide through a visual petition of one million fabricated bones. I engaged the students to consider what engineering (and, in general, STEM disciplines) knowledge and practices could contribute to the project, as well as what engineers could learn and gain from this project and the humanities and arts. In addition to these discussions, we made and donated fifty clay bones to the One Million Bones project. Another example is a digital multimodal composing assignment in one of my first-year writing courses. This assignment enables students to explore the textual, visual, and aural intersections of rhetorical production in relation to a political issue. Students have created a range of deliverables — such as videos, songs, websites, storyboards, and brochures — and figured out ways to circulate their projects in digital and non-digital public spaces.

Through the focus on individuals’ voices across social identities and experiences and their concerns within their communities, I see the classroom as a place for students to invent new ways of democratic practice and community connections through their writing and rhetorical lives within the academy, beyond its walls, and in their careers.

Courses

American Cultural Rhetorics

WRA 848 American Cultural Rhetorics Syllabus
In spring 2017, I was a teaching intern to Dr. Trixie Smith for a graduate course in American Cultural Rhetorics (WRA 848) at Michigan State University. This course focused on the theories and methodologies useful to research and scholarship in cultural rhetorics. By the end of course, students were able to map relationships between/across/among various intersecting theories, methodologies, disciplines, practices, and questions that comprise scholarship in cultural rhetorics.

Introduction to Professional Writing 

WRA 202 Introduction to Professional Writing Syllabus
In spring 2016, I taught Professional Writing (WRA 202) at Michigan State University. After students worked with various rhetorical concepts (texts, audience, exigency, constraints, culture, and others) in the first half of the semester, they worked with a non-profit organization: Refugee Development Center (RDC) in Lansing, MI. The RDC provides educational and social services for refugees from various countries, striving to facilitate self-sufficiency for individuals and families. I decided to partner with the RDC since the directors had expressed that it needed a variety of professional documents. Working in teams of three, students practiced listening to a client’s needs and wants, working with an organization and its community, and crafting professional newsletters.

Composition 

ENC 1101  Writing Academic Arguments Syllabus
ENC 1102  Rhetoric and Academic Research Syllabus
WRA 110 Writing: Science and Technology Syllabus 
I have taught a total of six first-year composition courses at two institutions: University of Florida and Michigan State University. At UF, I taught ENC 1101 and 1102—Writing Academic Arguments and Rhetoric and Academic Research, respectively—and focused each section on one of the following themes: food politics, adaption, and material culture. In ENC 1101, students practiced rhetorical and practical elements (exigency, devices, audience, message, context, and constraints) of writing effective arguments for contemporary academic audiences and food production and consumption issues. In ENC 1102, students learned techniques and forms of argument in a broad range of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, business, and natural sciences. And as they learned the complementary relationship between writing and research, they also practiced the stages of brainstorming, formulating a research problem, planning, researching, organizing, revising and presenting their writing.

At MSU, I taught WRA 110: Science and Technology. For the students, I defined these two course themes broadly, noting the importance to think about both non-digital and digital technologies as well as science and scientific paradigms in relation to other disciplines and areas of interest. Also, I integrated discussions, readings, activities, and assignments that connected science and technology to culture, highlighting issues of subjectivity, difference, and power.

Professional & Technical Communication 

ENC 2210 Technical Writing (Online Course) Syllabus
ENC 3254 Professional Communication for Engineers Syllabus
At University of Florida, I taught four sections of Professional Communication for Engineers and one section of the online course Technical Communication. The former was designed to help students master a variety of communication strategies, genres, and writing situations in the technical workplace. In addition to learning and composing a variety of professional documents (email, technical definition, instruction manual, progress report, feasibility report, and proposal), I also integrated an assignment on social awareness and change. I designed this assignment as a way for engineering students to become socially, politically, and globally aware by participating in an art activist project—One Million Bones, a large-scale social art installation that addressed current and historical genocides and thrived to raise funds for victims of genocide, to influence politicians to potentially end current genocides, and to inspire the public to engage more with global social issues. The assignment also required students to address a current engineering issue, considering what the political and social implications are in a global context.

The Technical Communication ENG 2210 was a survey of the forms and methods of communication used in business, industry, and government, including nonformal and formal reports, letters, resumes, and proposals. As an online course, I used a variety of modes of communication for instruction and engagement: emails, forum discussions, video tutorials, and podcasts.

ESL/EFL Teaching

I have taught a number of English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language at a variety of levels—beginner to advanced—and at four different institutions. With every course, I have worked to include various learning modes and assignments to ensure the greatest possibility for English language acquisition for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I have also obtained two certifications for teaching ESL/EFL: University of Cambridge ESOL’s Teaching Knowledge Test Module 2 Band 3 and TELF Institute’s Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).