Thursday, June 04, 2009

An Introduction

In the past when I've used the term 'genre', I've used it to refer to fiction targeted at a specific audience, writing with its own set of rules and conventions. However, in my current school work I am being forced to re-examine and to broaden this concept. According to several scholars in language arts, 'genre' writing refers to the use of text to reflect or express a culture or a social value. For instance, an editorial in a newspaper would be considered a subgenre which seeks to convince a readership; its structure is based on a rhetorical model. Another example of genre based on this broadened definition would be journal writing.

In a past post I referred to the works of certain authors who produce "high-brow" literature as being part of their own genre. The above definition would support this view. Like the horror writer, the "slice of life" writer has his own conventions, visible as the work attempts to mirror the sort of writing one has come to associate with something called authentic writing. Authentic writing, a term I hate, is writing which is primarily autobiographical and often gives the reader a good deal of inner conflict as opposed to externally driven action.

For those who write, I look forward to your feedback. Fellow teachers, I am interested in your own take on this. How do you teach writing? Do you spend time on syntax and grammar as part of some metalanguage approach, or do you teach genre, focusing on genre specific rules and conventions, forsaking any attempt at formally advancing understanding of grammar for the sake of grammar?


Steve Buchheit said...

And here I was thinking others were using "genre" and a synonym for "ghetto."

And as a frequent practitioner and abuser of grammar, I think a focus on grammar is okay, but the way primary schools go about is wrong. It's the equivalent of instruction in mathematics that is divorced from real world applications. While I don't really support an "economics" form of math instruction, some kind of tying into the real world is necessary (hence, all those word problems we had as kids). From what I remember of primary English, the structures were taught in a way separate from their actual usage and the lessons never stuck in my little brain. Now at the age of 42 I've been contemplating taking an English 101 course at a local college just to brush up.

I think if we taught English in a way that included editing and rewrite, it all would have made more sense. But then, how do you do that for six classes of 30 kids? That's a lot of line edits.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I used to do the Nancy Atwell-style writing workshop, taking bits from my student's pieces and offering them up as lessons for the day. It wasn't a total hit-and-miss approach, by the end of the year, we'd "covered" everything, but in context and attached to something of value, I rarely had to re-teach. It takes a lot of hard work and a solid foundation of trust, both teacher to student and amongst peers.

I ran into a student a few years ago who'd just started college and he told me it was one of his most memorable classes. That made it all worth it.

etain_lavena said...

Gosh I am not a good person to give great insight into this, but I know I write, i don't use rules of grammar, mostly I cant even spell.....Then again I feel anything left in a cage will loose it's uniqueness, will loose its passion. My poetry teacher use to crit me and embarrass me so badly in front of the entire class, we use to have huge fights. I later saw he saw something in me and wanted me to see it too. So teachers must teach and convey the rules, students must listen and learn without becoming robots that want to fit into a genre. :)

Akasha Savage said...

Although I'm not a teacher as such, I do work in a school library and I do take groups of children out each day and do work with them on books and authors. A handful of these children (ten year olds) have found out I am attempting to write a novel. They have 'bullied' me into setting up a school writing club: we now meet once a week and write stories. I am gently taking the children through the whole process of how to write: developing characters, thinking about plot/sub-plots, dialogue, editing etc. We are all having a whale of a time.

Avery DeBow said...

I think teaching an appreciation for the beauty of language, for the written word will foster an interest (not in all cases, of course) in the technicalities. I have to agree with Steve that the dry, textbook approach can be more than a little intimidating and off-putting to those relatively new to language arts. It's like learning dance without ever having watched others perform, or learning to paint without ever studying a painting. If the appreciation of the work comes first, the desire to learn the rules to "duplicate" it will follow--or will have a better chance, at any rate.

William Jones said...

As you indicated, genre is many things. Outside the academic world it has an equally blurred definition. Mostly, it seems to be a keyword for a fiction label - something to put on the sign above the bookshelf in stores. This doesn't mean the sign is accurate, but by making it a known commodity we make it "sellable."

As for most literary writings, the goal is often to break or not use the "form" of commonplace or "pulp" fiction. What is embedded here is that commercial fiction - genre - is not artistic, and lacks invention. However, it seems there is an attraction to these works.

As a side note, this conflict between elite and common fiction more of an U.S. issue. This to me seems odd given the nation is struggling to get people to read books.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think the term is still being used as a nice way to say ghetto.

I think it is difficult to teach writing, especially given the time constraints.

I want my students to be robots. It makes discipline so much easier. And if they misbehave...I just disassemble.

I'm starting to think the best way to handle the teaching of English is just to pass out chocolate and cigarettes.

I wonder if the current rush in academia is because there is an attempt to redefine the literary in the face of online writing.