Faculty Profile: Dr. Dorothy Worden

doctor Dorothy Worden

Dorothy Worden joined the faculty at The University of Alabama in 2016. Her research and teaching interests include second language writing teacher cognition, genre-based approaches to academic writing instruction, sociocultural theory, and the analysis of classroom interaction. Prior to coming to Alabama, Dorothy received her MA in Composition and Rhetoric from Washington State University in 2008 and her PhD in Applied Linguistics from Penn State University in 2015.

What influences led you to a career in Applied Linguistics?

I always had an interest in language. I majored in creative writing and theatre performance, and I was fascinated with the intricacies of human language. In both acting and writing, you can learn so much about characters simply by paying attention to the way they talked.

As an undergraduate, I started working as a tutor in the writing center. This is where I got my first taste of teaching. I wouldn’t say that I immediately fell in love with it, but I did find myself drawn to the creativity and problem-solving that goes into teaching. Tutoring, and later teaching writing, requires constant improvisation and trial and error, which I really value. While teaching international student writers, after earning my MA, I began to research the work writing teachers do on a daily basis in a more systematic way. This is what eventually led me to pursue my degree in Applied Linguistics and my current research agenda.

Your article, “Mediation and development of a novice L2 writing teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge of genre,” published in the Journal of English of Academic Purposes, examines the professional development of L2 writing teachers. How does this research inform your own teaching and mentoring of pre-service ESL writing teachers?

My research on L2 writing teacher development both grew out of my experiences working with novice teachers and informs how I continue to work with novice teachers. One of my most consistent and strongest findings is that teaching is a profession that constantly requires teachers to learn new content in order to teach it. This is a normal part of teaching, but student and novice teachers often feel embarrassed, anxious, or even ashamed that they don’t already know everything they will eventually be called on to teach. When I work with novice teachers, one of the very first things I try to do is to reassure them that this is just part of what it means to be a teacher and that it is not a failure on their part. I also hope to provide novice teachers with a framework for investigating unfamiliar kinds of writing so that when they are faced with the need to learn something new in order to teach it, they have some strategies they can rely on. In my graduate seminar on L2 writing pedagogy, for example, my students complete an unfamiliar genre project, which requires them to investigate, write, and design a curriculum to teach an unfamiliar genre. My hope is that by going through this process, with support and feedback in a low-stakes environment, the students will be better prepared to tackle this kind of learning-for-teaching when it comes up in their careers.

What guided your decision to join the English faculty at The University of Alabama?

There were several factors that led me to join the faculty at UA. First, since I have a background in Composition and Rhetoric (my MA) as well as Applied Linguistics, I was attracted to the fact that the linguistics program was housed in the English Department where there would be more opportunities for collaboration with English scholars in different specialties. Additionally, I was drawn to the TESOL program because of the many opportunities our students have to teach during their MA studies. This opportunity is not only good for them, but since I study teacher learning, it is a great context for me to continue my research.

Currently, you are working on research projects involving the Writing Center and a Discourse Lab. What could you share about those projects and your future research?

The study I am working on with Dr. Dayton in the Writing Center focuses on a fairly simple, but not well-studied, question: What do tutors learn by working in the Writing Center? There is quite a bit of research about what writers, who bring their drafts to the writing center, can learn, but there is much less work about what tutors themselves learn from this kind of work.This is an important question because, here at UA and at many other universities, tutoring is one way that novice teachers are trained before taking on responsibility for their own classes. We are using focus-group interviews with tutors to try to understand their perspective about how working in the Writing Center contributes to their development as future teachers.

The Discourse Lab is not actually a separate research project but is instead more like a working group of faculty from a variety of disciplines (Communication Studies, Anthropology, Education, Foreign Languages, and English) who give feedback to each other on our ongoing research projects. For myself, I have presented some of my research on L2 writing teacher development in this group.