INKSHED XXIII May 5, 2006

Catherine -- Academic writing as a form of professional writing: A Rhetorical Genre Approach

Rhetoric - oral academic

- written - professional government

- personal business

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I want to know more about the power of grouping students in triads. How and when do they work together? What does the group address?

You appear to be treating the move to academic writing as a new country and a new language. This gives your teaching a sense of adventure and travel.

"When Bad Things Happen to Good Writing Instructors" should have been the title to this talk! We need to do more with the inconsistencies among/within disciplines -- the zone of proximal assignment responses -- to help mark the borders of undergrad student writing expectations.

One of the clearest and most useful presentations I've had the pleasure of experiencing at this conference! But -- I'm not sure I would celebrate AW. Much professional AW is, quite frankly, bloody awful and deserves all the criticism intelligent minds can heave in its general direction. We should not only teach AWF but encourage students to write honestly, clearly, inclusively, and respectfully -- qualities that a great deal of AW currently lacks in spades (apologies for the mixed metaphor). -- Amanda

The idea of entering into an arrangement with students whereby they learn what can go wrong with their models -- how rules are broken, how many so-called model essays fail to live up to their paradigms -- creates a cozy plot of foiling the self-important practitioners.

Why Cathy have you chosen 3 as the number of students in your heuristic group? And Cathy's presentation makes me think that if teaching students how genres in general work is critically important to work place success, as Natasha suggests, and if this is best done by teaching gene in a meaningful context, then having students write in the academic in academic genres would seem sensible.

In general I think that giving students tools to understand genres -- to break them apart and understand what's going on -- is empowering to the student (something contradictory I think to what usually happens in traditional academic settings).

Compounding the problem is the conflation that sometimes (often?) occurs of style with grammar. Style assumes a knowledge of grammar, but does not prescribe grammatical rules.

I found it interesting when you said that your ESL students appreciated your indicating the "Western" nature of academic writings. I think students who are inside the Western culture also benefit from having "themselves" pointed out to them. They are too much in that world to recognize its features as options, choices that a culture has made over time. I think when any writer can see any aspect of writing as a purposeful decision and not as magical crafting then that writer can move closer to learning to do well in that writing. -- Pat S.

Demystification of the academic essay is what Cathy Schreyer's approach does. It's incredible how "taken for granted" this genre is: it is supposed to somehow magically imbibe the strategies. Yet the academic essay is never (or very seldom) contextualized in a rhetorical sense to students in any academic discipline. Cathy's pointing out the strangeness of certain conventions of the genre (inclusion at the beginning, etc.) is an excellent teaching moment (especially for students from different cultural/linguistic contexts!).

Wow! I would love to take a course from you. You dress the importance of best teaching practices and modeled this in your presentation. So much of what you said resonates within me about what is important in a classroom of novice writers -- make instruction direct and explicit. Use the resources you have at hand (maximize on what they know and use the experts you already have in class) -- starting from the simple and moving to the complex -- Writing is a social activity and yet so many are left to figure it out on their own. I am thankful that you bring so much clarity to your instruction.

To me the crucial element in your approach is helping students to realize that there is a logic, though not usually articulated by professors, to the conventions of academic writing, and that they are allowed, in fact required, to improvise and adapt these conventions to their own purposes, to subvert rule-based teaching and teaching about writing. -- Geoff

The point that a thesis is a conclusion placed at the essay's beginning is one I always make myself (and yes, students always respond to it). Another good one is, "There's nothing magical about the number 3" -- when trying to get students past the 5 paragraph essay, when the need to take off that particular set of training wheels. (Response: I've seen this too. But I've not seen evidence that it made a long term difference outside a n actual context of use.)

I guess, finally, I want to see evidence that these students actually internalize all this and carry it away. I'm simply incredulous, I guess: I don't think it would work for my students. -- Russ