Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Monday, October 10, 2011

Community and Genre: Teaching Writers About Context

Two of my three primary goals as a writing teacher are to help my students develop an understanding of genre and discourse community. I continually struggle to delve deeper than simply addressing audience awareness so they can learn about discourse communities and the process of becoming a full member as well as how communities shape the genres they uses.

This semester that process, or learning experience, began with building our class community. This was important to me for reasons I outlined in a previous blog post, Creating A Classroom Community, but essentially because I believe it will improve their experience with this class and help them become better writers. The first half of the semester was focused more on working with sources and building our class community, but in the second half I am more than a bit nervous about moving the issue of discourse community front and center to our discussion and work. This nervousness is in part because I haven’t fully worked out all the details yet but it is also the result of my fear that I cannot break this complex topic down effectively for my students which might simply be my fear that I am taking on too much for a general education writing class. Stay tuned!

I began the discussion of discourse community with a journal prompt for my students. It was a rather complex prompt in that I asked them to watch a brief video about Community and Genre and then read my reflections about the process of joining a community in my blog post, Jumping to become a full-patch member. It has only been a few days and so only a handful of students have posted yet but so far those responses have been good. They seem to understand the points I’m making about community and are able to pull examples from their own experiences. The next stage will be to discuss these issues as a class. It will be interesting to see where the discussion leads.

In the meantime, they are also engaged in two writing assignments that will feed our discussion and (hopefully) their understanding of discourse community and genre. They are currently working on literature reviews of peer-reviewed journals about professional training and communication needs of their intended professions. The intent is to develop a base of knowledge about the expectations and requirements of their field. Their next assignment will be to interview two professionals in their field to help them develop a fuller picture of those expectations and requirements. Toward the end of the interview assignment we will engage in another journal post and class discussion to further deepen their understanding of discourse community as well as to engage in some more specific discussion of genre.

That is where my comfort level ends. I have three more assignments planned to wrap up the semester – an analysis, a final (which is usually some sort of reflective and/or analytical essay), and a culminating project that ties the lessons of the semester into a neat package. In the past I’ve had them analyze degree programs or a professional organization’s code of ethics or best practices but at the suggestion of a colleague I’m leaning more toward some sort of community analysis. Of course how we’ll do that I’m not yet sure. I’m also struggling with whether or not to make these projects/assignments collaborative or solo (or give students the choice). I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about this. Would love to hear about how others teach their students about discourse community and genre.

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