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How Do We Teach Genre?

How Do We Teach Genre?

Genre is defined as a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Although this might be the dictionary definition, how can we extract an actual, physical definition of genre? It means a lot of things and covers many areas. Personally, I would have to say it’s a way to separate and organize writing, music, movies, books, etc. It’s a way to fit in all the different types of art that could potentially fall under a single category. I feel I must ask myself… how is genre meaningful as a term? A simple conclusion: form + situation = genre. That could work, right?

In our class discussion, we thought of various genres and jotted them down. When I first think of this on my own, I’m naturally drawn to these three stereotypical genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Before, this was my definition, plain and simple. Seemingly, everything can fit into those three categories. After discussing this with my peers, I had a better idea of what genre is. But how do I teach it to my students?

This week, the authors speak about critical thinking when applied to genre writing. How do we teach genre? Like I mentioned before – those three main categories is what I was always taught. I did not think critically when it came to genre. Or maybe I did but I just didn’t realize it. Can we teach a genre as if it were a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ thing? Part of me says yes… but the critical and analytical part of me says no.

In Bawarshi and Reiff’s article, the list they provide on page 197 helped me to consider different questions to ask, such as “Who can, and who cannot, use this genre? Does it empower some while silencing others?” and “What sort of communication does the genre encourage, what does it constrain against?” Teaching that the use of genre can spread further than my initial categories go, and we even have the power to change the world by understanding how to use genre – whether it be fiction, a news piece, the story of someone’s life and how others relate to it, or even a poem that knocks you on your feet when you understand it fully.

Another thought – when considering literacy – can it be used as a metaphor across various disciplines? We can also ask ourselves, what can our knowledge of literature/literacy contribute to other genre areas? As we move forward in life and evolve, new genres are being thought of as we speak. Digital media is one that has taken the world by storm. This did not exist almost 25 years ago. Blogging has become a genre in and of itself. We do it in class, we do it for pleasure, and we do it reach others around the world and relate. On that note, we definitely study genre to understand our culture better, and to relate to others.

 

Journal: Theory & Writing

I began working on my graduate degree in January, and the following journal is based on the first class session for Theories and Applications of Teaching Composition. We started our semester by discussing the relationship of theory and teaching composition. If you have anything to share or want to discuss… please do so in the comments below!

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Theory is defined as a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be; a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.

Considering this definition and the readings, theory has a large role in teaching composition. Up until I began my undergraduate degree in English, I did not understand how theory had a place in writing… when I look back on my education, theory was present the entire time – I just didn’t realize I knew how to identify it. Writing was always just a hobby, a way to get the ideas and demons out of my head and on paper. It was just, and still is (but with more meaning), my form of therapy.

What is the role of theory in our teaching practice?

The role that theory plays in writing can be flexible – there are many ways to go about instructing someone to conduct a task. Understanding theory and how to apply it to each unique situation in the classroom helps everyone – instructors and students alike – become more versed in a craft. With writing, I never realized how theory really comes into play until a few years ago when I began tutoring.

Do you have a theory or set of theories about writing and teaching writing? 

When I began this course, I feared I did not have enough experience as a teacher like my fellow classmates, as I have only tutored in the academic setting. In fact, until this class began, I did not believe that I had a pedagogical background. I am discovering it has been there, waiting to be uncovered. I’m beginning to understand this desire to teach has been here all along, and I have to reflect on my life as a writer to even begin considering what my teaching theory could be. To be honest, I never thought I had a set of theories about writing and teaching writing until now. It brought a lot to light for me, and helped me identify and physically write what a couple of my theories could be. The beginning of my running list is below:
  • Writing is therapy.
  • There is not one end-all-be-all way to write a piece. The beauty about writing is that it’s flexible and can vary from person to person.
What experiences and knowledge have led you to your current theoretical stance?

Why write? Why teach writing? Why develop theories about the writing craft? I have always asked myself “why write?” but never started to think deeper than my obvious answer… because it’s enjoyable. That’s why I write – because I enjoy the craft. The other two questions I never really considered until now.

Pondering the how and why of teaching composition, I’m discovering my principles began to take shape when I took a course to become a tutor in the University Writing Center (UWC). Looking back, I feel like I can barely remember the studying and researching that was done to prepare myself to become a peer tutor, but after conducting a year of tutoring sessions with fellow undergraduates, I could clearly see my path as a writer would be to help others and educate them about the craft.

Specifically about the two theories I stated above (my running list)…

  • Writing is therapy. Many who write can funnel their passion creatively, or use research as a way to find the answers to their pressing questions. In my experience, journaling has been a savior on its own. I can spend a few moments a day writing out what is bothering me or what makes me happy. I also enjoy challenging myself to put a creative spin on my words when freewriting.
  • There is not only one way to write a piece. After I trained to be a tutor for the UWC, I realized I would need to adapt the way I assisted each individual student. Some learn better by seeing, then doing… and others learn better by simple instruction. Even though I would begin each session the same way – breaking the ice, asking them questions about the piece, and have them begin reading aloud – I would often find myself ending the session a different way every single time. This alone helps me learn to adapt to unique situations in an instructor position, which I believe is very important.

(Photo credit: http://fab4fan.wordpress.com)

A Writer’s Nightmare

A Writer’s Nightmare

I won’t lie. I groan, wince, and kind of die a bit inside when I see those three little words when I’m looking for feedback on a piece of writing…

“That Sounds Good!”

Ugh, what a nightmare.

Reader response sessions, or peer workshop days, often make me excited for the chance to receive educated feedback. Unfortunately, I seem to run into the same problem: feedback that simply states “that sounds good.” That last one makes me shiver; leaving me to wonder what in the hell can I do with this? Where do I improve? What parts aren’t clear? There has to be something else they want to tell me!

I remember from my first writing courses peer response days very well. Maybe this is because I feel robbed once I was given my first draft back. When I give a response to a peer’s work, I tend to spend a significant amount of time pouring over their draft while the recipient barely makes a mark on mine. Even though I felt confident about my writing, I still would get discouraged the minute my eyes fell upon that one, dreadful phrase: “that sounds good.” It could be peppered in with useful comments and suggestions, but I would still grimace.

In my experience, peer response has not always been very helpful. I asked some fellow peers how they felt about reader response sessions and we have come to the same conclusion. Peer workshops simply do not help; however I have found throughout my college experience that there is in fact hope – but not until I reached 300-400 level courses. Perhaps this is because it was not until then I was surrounded by other writers who take the craft sincerely. The fact that a draft “sounds good” is not up for discussion. Writers want to know areas of improvement, if the draft is clear and concise, and if transitions are used effectively, among other things.

Now that I’m out of college and writing in the real world, I finally feel like I receive constructive feedback when I share my writing. Writing in the workplace is a bit different from the classroom and I am lucky to work with people who are not afraid to voice their opinion about my writing. It’s very important for people to give feedback without feeling like they are tearing down the author, and I can understand how hard that can be at times. I often find myself thinking of ways to politely tell someone their piece needs work, but I try to remember how much I appreciate the honesty. It doesn’t come from a bad place – it comes from a helpful place.

I believe the biggest reason for a lack of response is that the reader is afraid to actually write what they really think. We are naturally concerned about others and their feelings, and the easiest thing to do is tell the writer that everything “sounds good.” One of the two people will walk away from the session empty-handed, and this should not be the case. “This sounds good” is a phrase that is generally unheard of and not accepted when it comes to reader response in these courses. The point of a peer workshop is to get feedback on a draft – this means the reader must question the writer. The reader must engage the writer to get the missing pieces. We cannot improve as writers if we are constantly told our work “sounds good” and we aren’t challenged to advance our writing skills.

(Photo credit: http://www.thepoetryworld.com/gallery.asp?ImageID=14175&Ink-Pen-Hand)

“Better Days”

“Better Days”

I have become obsessed with the song “Better Days” by Eddie Vedder lately. The lyrics really spark something inside of me – makes me want to further explore my beliefs. I have been struggling with trying to figure out what I believe in (religion-wise), because I’m realizing my views are changing drastically. As I grow older and wiser, I’m beginning to branch away from the religious views that I was indoctrinated with as a child. Although I’m not too sure about what I really believe in anymore – if anything – I’m starting to question and explore other ideals and beliefs. I was born and raised Catholic, but now I would say I’m more Agnostic and questioning. I am not sure I’m ready to open that can of worms at this time, but stay tuned – that’s sure to come soon.

This song may not have much to do about the above paragraph, but when I listen to it, I feel that I am right to question my previous beliefs. I feel there is something else out there that is a better fit for me, and the universe will help me find it if I just open my mind… I’m ready to explore and open up. I’m ready to “greet myself, read myself.” I love my life and am very happy with the way things are going, and I know they will only get better. I will find my answers eventually. My future is definitely paved with better days.

I wanted to share these lyrics with you. I also included a video (from the movie Eat, Pray, Love). Enjoy!

Better Days, Eddie Vedder

I feel part of the universe open up to meet me
My emotion so submerged, broken down to kneel in
Once listening, the voices they came
Had to somehow greet myself, read myself
Heard vibrations within my cells, in my cells
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-la-ah-ah”

My love is safe for the universe
See me now, I’m bursting
On one planet, so many turns
Different worlds
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, ah”

Fill my heart with discipline
Put there for the teaching
In my head see clouds of stairs
Help me as I’m reaching
The future’s paved with better days

Not running from something
I’m running towards the day
Wide awake

A whisper once quiet
Now rising to a scream
Right in me

I’m falling, free falling
Words calling me
Up off my knees

I’m soaring and, darling,
You’ll be the one that I can need
Still be free

Our future’s paved with better days

Technology and Literacy

Technology and Literacy

Technology is changing literacy. It is progressing, giving virtually anyone with access the tools they need to expand their own personal literacy. In our day and age, there are many opportunities to become more literate, and all the while advance with technology. How exactly is technology influencing change upon the face of literacy? The constantly changing nature of technology and the way it intertwines with the evolution of literacy is fascinating. From learning ways to communicate, read, and write, to staying up to date with the latest advances in technology by way of computers and the internet, we as humans have always strived to get to the next step. Starting with one of the more obviously evolved technologies, computers have changed many aspects of literacy.

Not too many years ago, when someone needed to do research, they spent most of their time in libraries, archives, and interviewing people face to face or over the telephone for information. Now, most information is made readily available by the click of a button. Online databases harbor many scholarly articles and journals for researchers to utilize, making their process much simpler and less time consuming. As of late, a newer way of researching has hit the internet, called hypertext. This new form has helped researchers look for the most relevant information for their topics, and be able to save time by not searching word-by-word through a document. Hypertext also gives the reader the opportunity to make decisions on which parts of information will be most helpful when writing a research-driven document.

Hypertext has the ability to change how we will write, read, teach, and how we consider written works. Nancy Patterson, the author of “Hypertext and the Changing Roles of Readers” reports that “hypertext users…can challenge text immediately, or as immediately as the reader can write a response and link that response to the author’s text.” (Patterson 76). Technology has helped in such a way that if someone does not agree with some research they found and have evidence to back it up, they can contact the author of the hypertext article with their findings. Also, it is beneficial in many ways (writers of computer manuals especially) and promises to be a technology advancement in academics – mainly scholarly journals, where students can easily maneuver between citations in a work to an author’s previous publications.

Searching hypertext documents makes research easy for readers to gather and organize information. Readers are relying on the writers to separate their topics to be “reader friendly” and hypertext really gives the reader all the control versus the writer being in control of what the reader chooses to take in. The reader can choose what links to follow, therefore choosing what they read instead of ‘wasting time’ on content that might not be relevant to their topic. Davida Charney, a professor of rhetoric and composition, also wrote how hypertext may be changing reading in her article The “Effect of Hypertext Through the Processes of Reading and Writing” that “readers traditionally rely on the writer to select topics, determine their sequence, and signal relations between them by employing conventional discourse cues” (Charney 94).  By relying on the writer to have well organized information makes the research process much simpler for readers to gather and organize their information according to relevance. It makes the process much easier to endure, but yet provides all the information in the most recent form.

There is a good and bad side to hypertext researching. Even though it is up to date and is a simpler way to conduct research, the fact that there can be issues of credibility with some documents is something one must consider. Internet websites like Wikipedia. Users from all over the world are invited to add their own edits to entries on the online encyclopedia. The idea behind this is to have a knowledge bank that has so much information for all to enjoy. This gives users the chance to edit sources they view on the website. Everyone can be a reader and a writer at the same time. With this comes the issue of fraudulent information and author credibility. Dennis Baron, a professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois, writes “as more and more people turn to the World Wide Web for information, and as students begin relying on it for their research papers, verifying the reliability and authenticity of that information becomes increasingly important, as does revisiting it later to check quotations or gather more information” (Baron 82). I believe this concern for fraud meshes with academic documentation styles in quite a few ways, the highest concerns being how does one know what style is being cited correctly online? There are many citation machines available online for students and researchers to use, but how do we know if these are credible? People are safer using published books on documentation, and reputable sources online to ensure credibility of their documentation.

Baron also reviews various ways of deception and fraud that can be committed in the computer age, such as altering graphics and text available online. Other things that are computer related are currency fraud, where some will counterfeit money using a computer and high tech printer to reproduce money. Computers have brought so many changes to our society, and Baron also states that computers “offer new opportunities for producing and manipulating text…they also present new opportunities for fraud.” (71) Baron says that the computer is just the “latest step in a long line of writing technologies” (72) and that some of the biggest problems lie within authentication.

 

Despite the bad news of fraud floating around on the World Wide Web, the internet is a place where many people have found their writer within, and use the internet to become self published. Blogging and social networking websites are allowing people to write more than ever. Take for instance the free publishing tools WordPress and Blogger offer online. Publishing basics made easy through these free sites. Then here comes the bigger question: who has the time to blog? As of last year (2008), there were about 133 million blogs worldwide. Granted, some of these blogs are now idle and not updated, but nevertheless are still out in cyberspace for all to read. People worldwide are finding the internet to be a wonderful outlet to post their ideas, thoughts, rants, raves, and who-knows-what-else-comes-to-mind. Scott Rosenberg, the author of “Say Everything,” actually discusses many genres of blogging, including life blogging, in a live webcast from the Diane Rehm show (based out of Washington state). This term relates to those who blog strictly about their lives and what they are up to on a daily basis, and even including videos of their daily adventures. Sometimes it is easier for someone to talk to a camera than it is to sit down and write, and with the internet the way it is today, it makes it easy for everyone to blog. Talking about this subject with a colleague in the writing center, we both came to the conclusion that people are writing more than ever. Often, bloggers use social networking and social media sites to make connections with other writers. These sites are becoming more and more popular, giving users the freedom to publish whatever they choose to write.

 

Social networking has becoming one of the biggest fads to have hit the internet. Whether it is posting a “status update” on Facebook, publishing an entry on a personal blog, or a “tweet” through Twitter, people really are reading and writing more than ever. It seems the world is centered on this fascinating way of communicating – and why not? Educating people on the new forms of literacy is imperative to move forward in today’s world. It is all around us, Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls talk about how our culture is constantly being reshaped by the ever-changing forms of literacy. “From the clock radio that wakes up…until we fall asleep watching the late night talk show, we are exposed to hundreds – even thousands – of images and ideas from not only television but also websites, movies, talk radio, magazine covers, e-mail, video games, music…media no longer just shape our culture – they are our culture” (Thoman, Jolls 18).

 

We are constantly surrounded by things that have to do with literacy, and some do not realize that even watching television and playing video games can help people expand their own personal literacy. Video games are now being considered aids in literacy. Thoman and Jolls also discuss how video games “are actually quite intricate learning experiences that have a great deal to teach us about how learning and literacy are changing in the modern world” (Thoman, Jolls 21). I can agree with this fully – new games such as “Brain Age” and various other ‘pop-cap’ games focus on hand-eye coordination and reading directions to get you through to the next level. If people do not have basic literacy skills and wish to advance while playing their video games, it will seem impossible. With television, there are many shows on that are educational – even entire networks like the Discovery channel focus on educational programming. Nowadays, being literate doesn’t mean simply being able to read. It means to understand new mediums of technology; books, movies, television, billboard advertising, and the list could go on for days.

 

The internet provides the most up to date everything – research, news, blogs, ‘updates,’ weather, and even various modern tools for education. The internet and technology associated with computers is changing the way the world works, without a doubt. Keeping people in the know for changes in technology will only help our society advance. It is undeniable that literacy has been and will continue to be a changing force in our lives, especially when thinking about it from a technological perspective.


(photo credit: Rosenblum TV.com)