Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mutt Genres and Writing About Writing

I see that Alex Reid has already responded to (or alongside) Elizabeth Wardle's CCC article on "Mutt Genres and the Goal of Fyc." I am sure this essay will get a lot of people thinking hard, again, as she and Doug Downs wrote a much discussed piece on "writing about writing" that came out in the much read June issue of CCC two years ago. Heck, I blogged about that piece, too.

I'm very sympathetic to Liz's arguments because we graduated from the same PhD program although some years apart, same advisor I assume (David Russell), and this article draws on most of the same scholarship (and more) that I usually draw on when thinking about writing courses and programs. I've been practicing and encouraging a modified "writing about writing" approach in our fyc program at NDSU for the past 6 years as Director of FY Writing, but what this article really got me thinking about is the challenge of being Upper Division Writing Director. Over the past few years we have been extending our genre-based, rhetorical approach to 300 level classes in multiple disciplines (as many other universities do), and we have been worrying about both the transfer from fyc into udw and the transfer from udw out into the profession or other disciplinary courses. I do a first-day assessment / review in my UDW courses, and I see that only a handful of students remember the meta-knowledge, the concepts, from fyc. As I teach my courses, I am always painfully aware that I am not really able to teach students, even at the 300 level, how to write in their field and discipline. The nursing students, for example, might want to learn how to "chart," but the nursing faculty have said "don't teach them charting, we'll teach them that." And they are right to do so.

So what are we doing in UDW? To a large extent, "we" (or at least "I") am still teaching my own version of writing about writing (and doing it via mutt genres, I have to admit). I open my Writing in the Health Professions class with a "Health Literacy Report" and end it with a "Medical Report to Media Story" analysis. These assignments ask students to investigate how writing / communicating works in their field, and while I do so via genres like "report" instead of rhetorical analysis, and "public information document" instead of "essay," I know that my students will have to learn how to write reports appropriate to their future employers and I know they won't really write anything like my mutt genre final assignment, but I try to talk to them about how "reading the medical literature" will transfer to their other courses and assignment, and how "writing a literature review" will be a component of some future scholarly writing for some of them. I try to show and help students make some of the connections Wardle says we would need to make if we use the mutt genre approach. I also use portfolios with reflection and a "personal fact sheet" assignment, both designed to capture some of the skills, strategies and concepts from the class so that (with any luck), something will transfer.

Her scholarship continues to challenge me to take that next step and get students reading the scholarship about writing in their field, and to get them to do research on writing / literacy in their field. I'm not entirely sure what is holding me back, except that comfortable rut I have found myself in as a teacher and administrator.


Elizabeth W. said...

Hey Kevin, I just got my new CCC and look forward to reading your article! On a side note, that is the craziest issue of CCC ever. It's unfortunate that so many of the people in it did not make the front cover and got the material pushed online.

Elizabeth Wardle

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