Monday, October 6, 2008

Transforming Substance into Significance, Part 4: Authenticity—Genre Variety

Knowing how to write in a variety of genres is like having a fully-loaded toolbox. It provides effective means for addressing diverse circumstances. An authentic instructional writing program educates and engages students in writing from several genres and their related subgenres.

Genre variety exposes students to effective writing techniques. For example, analyzing an editorial may reveal an author’s use of facts, logic, and conclusions to argue an issue. In contrast, analyzing a narrative may reveal an author’s use of similes and allusions to connect to known concepts. Noting and practicing such techniques can improve writing.

Knowledge of genres influences reading abilities and improves learning. As students understand a genre’s characteristics and techniques, they improve their abilities to comprehend writing within that genre. Studying the writing reveals how the genre “works”; knowing how the genre “works” increases comprehension of writing within it. Increased comprehension aids learning in all academic areas.

Knowledge of genres also develops flexibility. Genre flexibility enables an individual to use writing effectively in diverse circumstances. For example, knowing how to write a formal letter that includes persuasive arguments can empower communication with local and national leaders. Relatedly, knowing how to write a short story can enable an individual to write fiction for entertaining others or to use illustrative anecdotes within expository text.

An authentic instructional writing program—one that actually teaches students to write well—equips students to write beyond the traditional fiction-nonfiction genre dichotomy. Major genres should correlate with reasons for writing. We write to communicate (genre: communicative). We write to inform and explain (genre: expository). We write to celebrate influences on our lives (genre: narrative). We write to entertain (genre: story). Each of these reasons comprises more focused reasons for writing. For example, expository writing informs and explains, but it does so through analysis, biography, comparison, or one of several other subgenres. Works of expository writing often combine such subgenres. Students need to master each subgenre and be able to combine them for effective communication.

Genre variety matters, and the genres composing that variety matter. Does the instructional program equip students to write in several different genres? Do those genres and their related subgenres represent reasons to write? Do the subgenres build in such a way that students can combine them for effective communication? An authentic instructional writing program equips students to address diverse demands by developing writing capacity in a wide variety of genres; an authentic instructional writing program fills a student’s writing toolbox.

No comments: