Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Genre Theories! (and Blogger Vistors)

I blame Secret Knitter for my lack of posts. Yeah, that sounds good...

Well, actually he is visiting the grand state of Arkansas, so I've been busy with showing him around my town (and making sure he's well fed), which has been loads of fun. Check out his recent posts for his take on The Natural State.

Monday, the day I took of to show Secret Knitter around, also was the day I had a class meeting, so I spent part of it finishing reading Amy Devitt's Writing Genres. This is an excellent book for introducing genre theory. Interesting to read, it touches on the major issues in genre theory right now, including the separation of rhetorical and genre theory. Good stuff.

And because I'm lazy, I'm just going to let you read the assignment I had to type out. It pertains to my thesis, however, thus you might be vaguely interested. We were asked to address three questions based on our readings: which genres are we interested in, what are the interesting questions, and where can I go for more information.


Which Genres?

I am interesting in the genre of student writing. Student writing and the assignments students are asked to complete for composition courses are particularly tricky to form into a genre because, according to Devitt and those she cites, the genre is itself unstable. Students from one class to the next rarely share the idea that their writings are linked in anyway, nor do they often see their writing for class assignments, be it composition or a lab report, as connected beyond the category of schoolwork.

I am also interested in the professional writing that engineering students will be asked to create when they enter the work force. Students may not see their freshman composition (or any writing they do in school, except for lab reports, perhaps) as pertaining to their future careers. However, as genre theories (and the concept of an underlying genre theory for writing) discussed in all of the readings, different forms of written discourse are connected and genres influence and shape that discourse. Devitt’s book is interesting in this regard because she discusses both the genres used by tax accountants and literary genres and believes that they share commonalities, at least as genres.

Interesting Questions:

Some questions that arise from my particular genre interests are as follows:

How can skills used student writing be transferred to professional discourse?

  • What are the skills used (or presumably used) in student writing?
  • What’s the purpose in an educational setting for student writing?
  • It is it effective, educationally? (I.e. does it meet the goals set by the genre?)
  • What are the intended goals set by the genre?
  • How can we provide students with a meaningful rhetorical situation they can use to shape their writing?
  • How can an understanding of genre help students?
Where to Go? (For Information?)

Devitt’s book has been particularly enlightening for my purposes. She discusses at some length the generic issues associated with freshmen composition courses and student writing—namely, the lack of genre stability and the issue of teaching students genre to empower their writing. Her research has directed me to other interesting articles and books such as David Russell’s work with activity theory and genre, and his book Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History. The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre also provided some interesting articles and directions that I could turn to find more information on my particular interests and questions. Both volumes contain not only good information, but sources that I could read and study.

Student writing is increasingly important as more researchers (and universities) turn their attention to composition classes, student writing, and what students actually take away from these courses. Just from David Russell I find more sources dealing with questions on making composition more effect, and I believe genre in many ways comes to bear on that problem. Devitt’s chapter on teaching genre awareness in turn provides directions and ideas that will be useful to my own research.

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