Having students illustrate a scene in the book, offering “passion projects” where they decide what to do, giving in-class time for writing assignments, and offering revision for all assignments are ways of motivating students—I try not only to get them out of their comfort zone, but find out what the comfort zone is by trying a lot of different things. Writing is a process, and I hope to embody that in the opportunities I give my students to draft, revise, and start fresh with each major writing assignment.
I once worked with a student who had severe dysgraphia and had him “speak” his paragraphs to me. This made him feel understood—he actually said, “You’re the only teacher to ever get how hard this is for me,”—and it helped him cross the bridge from speaking his thoughts to writing them down. Eventually he just started writing on his own without my asking him to do so.
Dr. Dennis Huston, my advisor in graduate school, has had the most profound effect on not only my teaching but my life. He offered a model for a teacher and mentor in writing to students and for the kind of human being I want to be. I met him at a hard time in my life, and he acted as a personal savior in a way that I will never forget.