Every piece of writing should be a reflection of the author. For TEL instructor Nam Pham, encouraging students to bring their personality to their work is a key part of teaching writing.
“Writing, like any other art form, should be an extension of the personality and a representation of the writer,” Nam said. “You can derive an entire personality just from reading a basic composition, like how you can interpret meaning from an artist’s brush strokes on a painting. Every piece is not going to be the Mona Lisa, but the development of writing skills should reflect the nature of learning. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald had to start somewhere.”
Nam has worked with TEL for almost two years but has been teaching since 2013. With both online and in-person experience over those past eight years, Nam has led a variety of English and Composition courses, including Comp I and Elements of Writing. For TEL, Nam teaches Introductory Reading and Writing, Literature and Composition, and Language and Composition.
In most writing courses, students are encouraged to read examples by great authors. This can be inspiring for some budding writers, but it can also be daunting.
“My favorite part about teaching composition and general writing skills is when it seems to click with the students,” Nam said. “There is a certain point where they seem to realize they do not have to be as in-depth as Ralph Emerson, or as creative as Maya Angelou, but understanding the simplest format can be as profound in establishing their own voice and be the basis for their academic career.”
Writing is a creative endeavor and students should work to explore that voice in their writing. But writing is also about communication, and there are foundational rules that writers must follow in order for others to understand a piece. For Nam, encouraging that creativity also comes with a significant amount of feedback.
“The best method I found in establishing my own writing skills is receiving a composition draft back dripping with red ink,” Nam said. “Just know that criticism and feedback is not an affront to your personality, but an encouragement to develop your writing skills and make it your own.”
Writing courses, especially introductory writing courses, involve a lot of, well, writing. These assignments take planning and often multiple revisions. That type of motivation can be hard to muster in in-person classes. In online and self-paced courses, students often need to dig a little deeper.
“When it comes to learning online, there is a significant expectation that the student will have responsibility for their own experience,” Nam said. “How do you teach them something as intangible as having initiative in a Composition course?”
It’s not micromanaging MLA format rules or coddling online students so they eventually turn in their assignments. As an instructor, Nam works to help students establish a connection of their own identity with their work.
“I constantly tell my students to ‘own their work.’ Let the writing or assignment be a testament to their personality both in content and as an extension of their own identity,” Nam said. “In the end, you can establish the destination. Some students will plan their own route and just go where the road takes them, but others will need Google Maps to tell them every turn and street to take. That’s just the nature of teaching.”
General education courses like Language and Composition bring a variety of students and student interests into each class. Everyone needs to check this box to reach their desired degree.
Through their writing assignments, Nam gets a glimpse of the personalities of each of his students. But in an online environment, it’s not always as easy for students to get that glimpse of their instructor. That’s why Nam makes a concerted effort to be active in his courses as he helps students learn the material.
“The most important factor when it comes to online courses is being able to produce consistency from each class each semester but at the same time introduce a little personality so that the instructor is not just a faceless facilitator,” Nam said. “That is my goal with every class that I teach to provide the necessary tools in order to help the students find their voice in writing and to make the course memorable.”
To learn more about the courses Nam teaches as well as other courses available from TEL, check out the Course Catalog.