ah yes – genres… this is a topic to which I have already given a lot of thought; in fact, it is what enticed me into the WID program from the beginning!

I had read this chapter from Bean before we started, and I have already mentioned some of these my ideas, based on my own experience and Bean’s chapter, in our discussions (blog and meeting), so I will try to not repeat myself.

obviously, it is a topic near and dear to me. I have always played around with genres to some extents, but it was when I actually started writing fiction that many of these ideas came together. My colleague Susan Palmer and I had conceived of a religion-based mystery series as a retirement plan (we were of course going to become best-selling authors!), a way to put our education and expertise to practical use. But I hadn’t realized just how freeing it would be to write this way, and how much fun! So I started thinking about how it would be possible to bring that to my students, to start out with something that was actually fun to do, and transform it into what the academy requires.

The studies referred to  by both Bean and Bazerman encourage me to pursue this, not the least of which is Zull’s brain research that suggests how beneficial it can be of a physical, neurological level, to use different forms.


I also think this will go some way towards changing the power dynamic that we read about in Chapter 5 (and that Bean refers to in this chapter as well – the “Western or patriarchal form that silences other ways of knowing” (56)) – by changing the rules of engagement, we allow different students’ strengths to emerge. By encouraging them to find their own voices, we help them find self-confidence. and, in the end, it certainly makes the marking less of a blindingly boring chore!!!! I have begun to use some of the suggestions we’ve already encountered – I note some of their grammar errors, but not too many of them and I don’t take off marks for them. I am focusing on WHAT they are saying, rather than HOW. As we have seen in previous chapters, the how can come later, the papers can be fixed up, if necessary. But when these are shorter assignments, rather than formal papers, I want to encourage them to explore their ideas, not to cut them off before they’ve even started….

time to come down from my soap box!!!

I especially liked Bazerman’s example of students who did NOT respond as expected to a different kind of genre, that there is no one type that fits all.

So my question to you is: can we incorporate this idea of different genres into all subjects and courses? or is it limited to particular ones? do you see ways to bring in different genres (not necessarily fiction) into every subject you teach? or do you think it would be a waste of time, perhaps the students would have more fun but it would not really be a pedagogical help?


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  1. Bazerman’s description of the negotiation between teacher, student and ‘institutions’, how some genres are privileged and developed in academia (1997) echoes with what I wrote last week. Bazerman explores how we may account for the rigours of academia and at the same time deviate from the well-worn paths to open up new, creative directions for students. As my background is interdisciplinary, so is the type of writing I encourage; I have already spoken about how I allow students the choice of whether to write a traditional paper in my media class, while others elect to explore what Bean calls ‘expressive’ as per Britton (assimilating new ideas through the production of a blog, a funny, a graphic novel sheet) and still others produce something more ‘poetic’. I also encourage this through notebooks and the collection of their notes and journals about articles and class themes, throughout term. This does not mean however that they are fully exempted from the traditional, ‘transactional’ (closed-form academic) writing described in Bean, as each of them at some point during term prepares formal statements based on academic research, and assesses academic writing either through an annotated bibliography or an essay assignment.

    I try always to remind students that there is an audience for their work, what Carolyn Miller (in Bazerman) suggests is the process of proving ‘effective’ their utterances and devices as ‘rhetors’. I like this dialogic view, as it highlights how students’ experience with genres, as well as their own concerns, interests, and life experiences connect with what they are learning (so integral to the New School pedagogy). What results resonates with what Fagan (in Bean p. 53) speaks of as reintegrating into writing, ‘satire, indignation, passion, love, hate – in short, most of the feelings that are at the heart of our humanity”. (Apparently this may also be achieved in applying the Myers-Briggs thinking/feeling continuum to thinking and writing). For this to happen, we do need to integrate different genres into the social sciences and humanities. I love that Bean provides some very concrete frameworks with his ‘advice to teachers of general education courses’ and advice for ‘advanced courses in the major’. This leaves me with the very practical consideration of where could we get ideas about how each field engages in writing that is specific to its own discipline? Maybe some of you can help!

  2. Yes, I’ve found that a number of Bean’s most useful suggestions, not only here but in other chapters, centre around encouraging students to write in a variety of genres. As I’ve mentioned in our discussions, I recently experimented with having my students write short responses in the voice of characters in the novel we are reading. I was surprised by how much enjoyment they got out of this process, and also by the amount of insight they demonstrated in their work. It also helps make the point about different expectations for different genres, which I think we should do everything possible to highlight. As Bean points out, ideas about “good” writing (and even the definition of the word ‘thesis statement”) can vary dramatically even among disciplines. I can say from experience that historians tend to be empirically grounded, sometimes to a fault, and often express skepticism towards analyses that “stick their necks out” without, they believe, a sufficient evidentiary base (typically gleaned from archives). In other fields, such as literary studies and critical theory, there may be more of a focus on developing an innovative interpretative stance (ironically, these are fields from which historians often borrow their own interpretive approaches). Writing for a magazine or a blog or a parliamentary committee or a poetry slam involves alternative rhetorical conventions. It’s useful to remind ourselves, and our students, that there isn’t “one” way to write for all audiences. By giving students opportunities to write in a number of modes, we also provide them with deeper understanding of our content. This is because they have to work through and process the material in so many different ways. Translating our writing for varying rhetorical situations does pose challenges, though. In graduate school, I remember reading a dense book on the history of disease outbreaks and racism in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America. It was quite brilliant. Our professor then brought in an op-ed by the same scholar, who linked his research to contemporary issues related to race and disease. While we all agreed that it was worthwhile to communicate our research to the public, the work also lacked the nuance, rigor, and critical insights that made the book so powerful as a work of scholarship. This reminds of an issue I often encounter among my students: they tend to be very good at expressive and reflective writing (which I encourage), but it’s often difficult for them to translate this into strong academic work, which I also want to teach. Like Marjan, I’m looking for practical suggestions that will help me effectively teach both “conventional” and “unconventional” genres.

  3. My first impulse to your question Sonia is to say that incorporating the idea of different genres is limited to particular subjects and courses. Then I considered everything we have been reading together and discussing. Papers in psychology tend to be research based and use an academic writing form which we begin teaching students how to do immediately as it can be difficult to learn. But then after the reading and further reflection, I know this isn’t true. Bean points out mixing academic with more personal or creative forms of writing can bring out different learning styles as well as engage different parts of the brain and link unfamiliar material to what one knows or has experienced. I realized not only did I know all this but that I have incorporated ‘non academic’ genres in my course already to achieve exactly those objectives. It would be interesting to see how my colleagues, who all teach academic writing, have incorporated different genres (consciously or unconsciously).

  4. À mon avis, non seulement on peut, mais on doit incorporer des genres différents dans les disciplines qu’on enseigne, pour les raisons que Bean et Bazerman expliquent très bien (faire un lien avec l’expérience personnelle, donner un nouveau souffle de vie aux genres académiques traditionnels en les greffant sur les habitudes cognitives et discursives des étudiants), mais également pour mieux répondre aux enjeux éthiques, politiques ou sociaux des sujets qu’on enseigne.
    J’ai lu il y a quelques semaines un article très intéressant à propos du projet d’une professeure qui enseignait dans la banlieue parisienne, une banlieue qui a été le théâtre des émeutes de 2005.

    On a dans cet article un bel exemple d’un projet qui dépasse sa visée pédagogique (initier des étudiants d’un milieu défavorisé à la littérature, leur donner le goût d’écrire, le lire) pour acquérir, comme l’auteur de l’article le souligne, une dimension éthique et politique.
    Cet article nous montre également comment un genre moins traditionnel (écriture d’un roman) permet de mieux saisir les « nuances » voire la complexité d’une situation, d’un moment (social, historique, politique).
    Cela me fait penser à comment un professeur d’Histoire, par exemple, peut aborder un sujet « chaud » (guerre en Syrie, crise de migrants) ? Chiffres, faits, hypothèses, conclusions ? Ne risque-t-on de banaliser le Mal ?

    Des genres qui tiennent compte de l’expérience personnelle des étudiants, de leurs habitudes cognitives et discursives, je suis parfaitement d’accord. Mais également des genres adaptés aux enjeux éthiques, sociaux, politiques du sujet qu’on aborde dans la discipline qu’on enseigne, des genres qui répondent à la nécessité d’agir, de prendre position.

    • Merci, Carmen! C’est inspirant, le travail de Sylvie Cadinot-Romerio. Ça prend un effort de sortir de nos habitudes et attitudes professionnelles, pour sauter un peu dans l’inconnu d’un projet sans précédent. Ça me rappelle le projet recent d’Abdennour Bidar – il appelle “Les Tisserands” eux qui travaillent pour restaurer les liens intérieurs et sociaux qu’on trouve déchire par la modernité. Dans ce projet de Cadinot-Romerio, l’écriture peut agir d’une manière publique et sociale, prenant position comme t’as indiqué, dans un context urgent, même si cette écriture a pour origine une activite scolaire…

  5. @ “I also think this will go some way towards changing the power dynamic that we read about in Chapter 5 (and that Bean refers to in this chapter as well – the “Western or patriarchal form that silences other ways of knowing” (56)) – by changing the rules of engagement, we allow different students’ strengths to emerge.”

    I tend to agree, but others will not. This, plus Julian’s concerns about whether writing for general audiences actually encourages compromises in the “strength” of academic reasoning, reminds me – two weeks ago, English WID Fellows Jeff Gandell and Susan Briscoe gave a workshop for the English department on creative alternatives to closed-form essays – and in their introductory slides, they quoted Bean paraphrasing Carroll: “writing improvement should be measured not by students’ ability to produce increasingly better papers on the same kind of assignment, but instead by the ability to produce flawed but passable papers on increasingly diverse and complex assignments within a variety of rhetorical contexts” (59). There were some audible gasps in response to this slide! As Jeff went on to argue, it may be hard to digest at first – we want student work to be flawed, passable? – but the shift arguably allows students to develop a more adaptable,sophisticated and creative approach to a range of different writing situations. Mastery in any one form is a long way off for our students; is the better approach instead to develop tactics for understanding how to reason and communicate in a wide variety of forms? Open question…

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