Janice Fernheimer

Rhetoric, Technology, Jewish Studies

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

For me, teaching is a rhetorical endeavor. It involves the close, careful analysis of texts in light of a consideration of audience, persuasive purpose, and historical context as well as an emphasis on writing as a recursive and process-based activity. Exposing students to a diversity of readings, technologies, assignments, and writing strategies, my goal is to create a dynamic classroom community that fosters collaborative learning, sophisticated thinking about complicated topics, an openness to new ideas, and a willingness to argue with integrity. Over the past ten years, I have taught a broad spectrum of classes ranging from first-year composition to graduate courses in pedagogy and rhetorical theory, writing courses designed to fulfill university requirements (about digital rhetoric, representations of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and food) as well as literature courses designed to introduce students to the rhetoric or English major. Though my courses vary in structure and emphasis, depending on curricular constraints and students’ needs, what remains constant throughout is my rhetorical approach to teaching critical thinking, reading, and writing.

Some of the most controversial class conversations I’ve ever facilitated took place in courses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rhetorical concepts helped us discuss and better understand this ostensibly “unsolvable” political problem by allowing us to recognize both the common topoi that caused conflict and the specific stasis points of disagreement (existence, definition, evaluation, cause/consequence, and proposal). I have taught versions of this course at three different institutions and academic levels—as a first-year writing intensive seminar, as a sophomore-level writing intensive course, and this fall I am teaching it as an upper-division, writing intensive course using graphic representations. My class goal is not to “solve” the problem—would that our classes could create “Peace in the Middle East,” —but to increase students’ comprehension of the topic’s complexity. Since this fall’s version engages junior and senior-level students, their final seminar paper assignment will be completed either as a traditional, critical academic essay or as a graphic essay. Both will require substantive research. This assignment is designed to help students engage in sustained research and recursive revision of a longer essay. Ideally, students might use this final assignment as a jumping off point for a conference presentation, as a writing sample for applications to graduate school, or as a part of a larger portfolio.

Such assignments show how I aim to help students become better writers. I want them to succeed not just in my course, but also in the many writing situations they will face throughout their lives—within and outside of academe. I discuss writing as process-based and use the canons of rhetoric—invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery—to explain the steps. Talking about writing in terms of drafts, a process of discovery, “arguments waiting to happen,” and recursive revisions helps students do a better job of separating their identity as individuals from their performance on time-bound tasks. Some students who never thought of themselves as “good writers” suddenly think they are capable of becoming just that.

In all the courses I teach, rhetoric, writing, and literature, I strive to develop an atmosphere of intellectual collaboration and collegiality. To realize these goals, I refer to my students by name, and require them to do the same while building upon the contributions from students who preceded them in conversation. In so doing, I ensure that class discussions are not simply lively but engaged—ones in which students carefully listen to, challenge, and argue with one another. My use of technology extends this community beyond the classroom walls and expands the kinds of learning valued within them by allowing discussion to begin before and continue after class meets. Integrating students’ online postings into class activities fosters a sense of shared investment in the course while also enabling the content to adapt to its audience’s most salient needs and interests. Assigning students to compose both individually and collaboratively, in traditional print and video, challenges them to consider which of the many media available are most appropriate to the rhetorical task.

Developing an intellectual community requires an instructor to be approachable, challenging, and inspiring. Through my teaching, I encourage students to try multiple methods, experiment with new ideas, and develop confidence in their abilities. The rhetorical method I employ is flexible enough to be used in any class. In Kenneth Burke’s words, it requires students to be “quizzical,” and, “provides the surest ground for the discernment and appreciation of linguistic resources,” thus enabling them to be inventive, to take risks, and to argue civilly in class and the world.


Janice W. Fernheimer is Assistant Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at The University of Kentucky where she teaches courses in rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy; digital writing; and Jewish rhetorical studies. Her research focuses on questions of identity, invention, and cross-audience communication.

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