Understanding Genre Theory

After reading through Dean’s Genre theory I realized I nary understood the breadth of genres. I was under the impression that, as Dean put it, “(a) primarily literary, (b) entirely defined by textual regularities in form and content, (c) fixed and immutable”. I had always assumed genres were the worlds way of sorting various media into groups of similar interest, and thus had used genre as a way to define myself as a consumer. Labeling situations as definitive genres is an easy way to overlook their importance. As Dean says “genres are not discrete. They depend on each other and interrelate in complex ways.” Merely changing minuscule details about a situation could add other applicable genres or possibly change the genre drastically, for instance Dean notes ” selecting and appropriate greeting card depends partly on the situation — birthday, graduation, death, mother’s day” the same act of giving a greeting card can be so uplifting on a birthday and so utterly depressing for death. The deep connection between the core genres are easy for me to see. 
 
When breaking down the seven main characteristics of genre Bawarshi is quoted saying “a social code of behavior is established between the reader and the author”. At first I didn’t quiet understand how genres could be social but further reading lead me to the conclusion that text and situations are affected by social aspects the same way other interactions are. I believe that defining text based of the social consequences we accept by writing it is how Dean thinks genres are social. I particularly liked the example given about how if you submit a poem when a resume is expected you might not get the job, unless the job is poet, this example made me understand that social context plays a major role in defining the characteristics of genre.
 
“Because they both establish and enforce relationships genres are rhetorical” is exactly what it took for me to understand that genres are rhetorical. Dean makes a very good point that genres have obligatory expectations but those expectations are not all encompassing of a genre. Authors get the freedom to choose how they deliver their expected material and those choices are rhetorical. 
 
So far I understand that genres are social and rhetorical, so it is only natural they are dynamic as well. Dean draws the conclusion that “genres change, they create change in their contexts”
Depending on the rhetorical choices made the outcome of a social situation may change drastically. That change is why genres are dynamic. If every choice lead down the same metaphorical path then genres would not be dynamic but since genres are flexible and changing we have dynamic outcomes.
 
In reading Dean’s observations of genres being historical I understand the concept of genres relying on past genres however I do not understand how or why this must occur. The connection between past genres and new genres surely exists but I can not see how Dean draws the line from correlation to causation. Alongside historical I fail to see how genres are cultural. This may be my own folly with a lack of understanding of culture but I can not understand how culture and genre are intertwined. I do think that you need one to define the other however I don’t fully understand either so I can not make the connection. Historical and Cultural genres seem to have the most complex roots and I believe that many things are not entirely addressed by Dean in his short synopsis of these specific characteristics.
 
Situated context makes more sense to me than cultural even though they seem to be two sides of the same coin. I completely agree with Dean when he notes “Even before we look at it, we have oriented ourselves to ways of reading that genre”. Given mirco level  interactions it is obvious that genre has many situated potentialities and situation is a fantastic way to define genre. I also understand how genres are ideological. It seems clear when you combine genres that are social, cultural and situated you would get an ideological genre. Because social and cultural values and ideologies vary in different situations their will be conflict that will arise and cause genres to clash. I understand what Dean means when he says “genres carry social and political implications because of genres’ ideological aspects.”
 
Finally I understood most of what Dean had to say about genre, however I don’t think I really understand the purpose of his writing. It seems like Dean wishes educators to broaden students understanding of the term genre however I feel that most of his writing was overly complicated. I honestly think he would have been better off coining a new term instead of trying to drastically change the meaning of genre. I don’t think I could use genre the way Dean wants genre to be used after just reading this.

Ron is a Swell Guy

Harris and company refer to the way we write in a manner which can be summarized by our experiences. They state that our writing style comes not from our “discourse community” or our selves, as they see it we can neither write wholly in one manner or the other. Thus our writing must be a combination of all of our communities and ourselves, to say that we create our individual styles because we cannot separate ourselves entirely from our other communities. I agree with them on this point and think that logically it makes sense that we would bring our personality to our community writings, even if it may not be the most appropriate way of writing. Harris makes a good point that there should not be this expectation in academic discourse communities that the way “we” do things is proper and “they” are wrong, instead he thinks we should consider other pedagogues as equally valuable.

I really liked Ron’s excerpt about how other disciplines may not value the freedom offered by his writing course. In my academic experiences freedom is not only impossible, it is downright irrelevant. I have a decent amount of experience in Mathematics and less experience in Computer Science but in both discourse communities the idea of writing “freely’ isn’t possible. I suppose at the highest level of theoretical mathematics this sort of writing might exist but as a student I am not at liege to propose radical papers in an attempt to add to the community. Instead I am expected only to learn what has been discovered through thousands of years of hard work. As such I don’t value the idea of an academic discourse community at all. Honestly, I think this could only ever apply to liberal arts and has no real place in the worlds of Math or Computer Science. The reason I like Math and Computer Science is because there isn’t this sort of grey area of right/wrong, there is a very straight forward right and wrong and only the highest level of experts are allowed to argue otherwise. I do see value in what Harris writes about in other academic communities but I’d like to keep myself distanced from the notions exhibited. Like Ron said “I won’t break out because I have this bad habit, it’s called eating”. I have to say I like Ron, much more so than Harris or Swales, he seems like a swell guy.

As far as the relation between Harris’ ideas and Swales’ I noticed that while Harris does not disagree with Swales neither does he wholly agree. Instead I’d like to think Harris liked Swales’ idea but saw the flaws in it as well. Harris points out that by Swales’ definition leads us to fall back onto a warmly persuasive stance on communities. I think Harris’ main ideas line up with Swales’ but the way Swales addresses them is too unopposed. Without a counter to community the term loses significant meaning and Harris knows that. Overall I think Harris and Swales both make good points about discourse communities and I see no reason why both can’t be right.

Higher Education Communities and You

At current, I am an apprentice of the academic community for Computer Science as well as a member of this Writing and Inquiry community. I lay no claim to be an important member in either community as it is my goal to blend into the environments I am presented as to not draw excessive attention to myself. However I do consider myself an authority amongst both communities and will henceforth share my experiences thus.

As for the Computer Science Society, aka CSS, we share a common goal of learning the ways of programming and understanding how to interact with technology in a progressive manner. The main form of intercommunication appears in emails and moodle announcements for those enrolled in an ITCS class. As such there is not a significant amount of intercommunication however it is present. This participatory mechanism of communication is used as a teaching method most often and grants access to a plethora of resources related to Computer Science and programming in general. The CSS has a large number of genre-specific conventions because there are many coding languages that explored in it such as Java, C++, and Python. As a member of this community I view its practices and values as necessary for the community to thrive, without common coding languages it would be impossible for communication between recipients. As such I believe that the practices and values of the CSS do not only reflect their writing practices, they in fact define them. And it needs to since we bolster over 100 active members in just my class alone.

On the other hand this Writing and Inquiry community that I am a part of consist of mostly verbal communication for its daily communication. It provokes conversational debate over topics that relate to writing practices and inquiries as well as communicating through inquiries and blogs. So far the majority of our intercommunication has been verbal or through blog post. This community is split into relatively small groups of 30 or fewer person classes that interact biweekly in order to further their understanding of writing and inquiries. I personally enjoy this method over larger communities because it engages a sense of camaraderie not felt by larger groups. I don’t believe there are any genre-specific conventions used in this community however the style of writing inquiries could be a convention since we all share a similar method in order to fulfill the requirements of the course. In this community the practices and values are used as methods to enhance writing practices among members, it is a community with the goal of improving its members through enrichment and inquiry.

There are many similarities in CSS and Writing & Inquiry community since they both share a common goal of educating students, however the methods used vary vastly. As such there are many different experiences a lucky college student such as myself can feel while they journey through higher education and I believe that to be immensely important for future success.

Higher Education Communities

At current, I am an apprentice of the academic community for Computer Science as well as a member of this Writing and Inquiry community. I lay no claim to be an important member in either community as it is my goal to blend into the environments I am presented as to not draw excessive attention to myself. However I do consider myself an authority amongst both communities and will henceforth share my experiences thus.

As for the Computer Science Society, aka CSS, we share a common goal of learning the ways of programming and understanding how to interact with technology in a progressive manner. The main form of intercommunication appears in emails and moodle announcements for those enrolled in an ITCS class. As such there is not a significant amount of intercommunication however it is present. This participatory mechanism of communication is used as a teaching method most often and grants access to a plethora of resources related to Computer Science and programming in general. The CSS has a large number of genre-specific conventions because there are many coding languages that explored in it such as Java, C++, and Python. As a member of this community I view its practices and values as necessary for the community to thrive, without common coding languages it would be impossible for communication between recipients. As such I believe that the practices and values of the CSS do not only reflect their writing practices, they in fact define them. And it needs to since we bolster over 100 active members in just my class alone.

On the other hand this Writing and Inquiry community that I am a part of consist of mostly verbal communication for its daily communication. It provokes conversational debate over topics that relate to writing practices and inquiries as well as communicating through inquiries and blogs. So far the majority of our intercommunication has been verbal or through blog post. This community is split into relatively small groups of 30 or fewer person classes that interact biweekly in order to further their understanding of writing and inquiries. I personally enjoy this method over larger communities because it engages a sense of camaraderie not felt by larger groups. I don’t believe there are any genre-specific conventions used in this community however the style of writing inquiries could be a convention since we all share a similar method in order to fulfill the requirements of the course. In this community the practices and values are used as methods to enhance writing practices among members, it is a community with the goal of improving its members through enrichment and inquiry.

There are many similarities in CSS and Writing & Inquiry community since they both share a common goal of educating students, however the methods used vary vastly. As such there are many different experiences a lucky college student such as myself can feel while they journey through higher education and I believe that to be immensely important for future success.

Are guidelines really gatekeepers?

I don’t personally have a lot of experience with the five-paragraph “writing style” (quoted because I hesitate to call it that). In my high school writing life I was only taught such a structure as a Freshman, and it was only to be applied to persuasive/argumentative essays. Maybe because I took honors classes or maybe out of sheer luck I was not confined to such a drab formula outside of the Writing Test and SAT essay. While I was lucky enough to have freedom over my writings, I tended to use the introduction paragraph taught to most students containing a hook statement, thesis statement and a few bridging sentences that lead into my paper. Having a set of expectations to refer to is a good thing in my opinion, beyond that the only gatekeeper should be a students willingness to surpass those expectations.

When I think of gatekeepers I don’t immediately consider formulaic writing, having a structured guideline to writing is a great way to get started when you are struggling with a topic. As you advance more in other aspects of writing such as grammar, syntax and flow I think it should be up the individual to expand their horizons and write however they wish. This is what I remember from high school.  The gatekeeper wasn’t holding students back from writing freely, instead it was herding lost students towards a goal and allowing advanced students to do as they pleased. As I stated I don’t believe I had a normal experience with English classes, most classes consisted of a few in class essays, which lend themselves to quick structured writing, and out of class research papers which didn’t have to follow a certain style as long as it was deemed sufficient length. I wrote a 26 page paper on the history of Germany up to World War I for my final paper in English III which was given a 98 because of a few grammatical errors, the suggested length of said paper was around 7 pages. So in my experience the only gatekeeper for writing is a students willingness to go the extra mile, it takes a lot of work to stay on topic for more than five paragraphs when your topic is something like “Most people have favorite entertainers, sports teams, breeds of dogs or fast food restaurants. Write a paper to persuade someone else that your choice is great.” (An actual writing prompt from Ohio’s 2009 writing test). With such mindless prompts it isn’t hard to see why a five-paragraph essay would be the easiest way to approach writing for tests. It should be up to instructors to teach students how to go above and beyond what is expected of them, but it is the students responsibility to follow through.

I can say from my time at UNCC that the expectations in college aren’t different but they are longer. Instead of three topic, five paragraph essays I’ve written 7-8 topic essays with 9-10 paragraphs. Only in a religious studies class did the professor actually expect more from us, otherwise following a rubric was the bare expectation and going beyond was over achieving. I don’t believe writing literacy today holds the same importance as it did twenty or thirty years ago. The most important thing, at least outside the academic world, is to be able to communicate with and through technology. Writing isn’t obsolete but as times change the job of peer-to-peer communication shifts to computer generated graphs, bullet point presentations and speeches instead of written reports. At least in the fields I care about writing isn’t about being fancy and showing off mastery of writing as much as it is about effective communication.

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All of that aside, I would like to state my problems with “The Five-paragraph Essay and the Deficit Model of Education”. While I can only speak for myself*, I felt like this article was written expressly to people who wouldn’t like the five-paragraph essay to begin with. It is fine to write to a specific audience but as somebody who doesn’t loathe that style of writing it seemed extremely disrespectful towards the teachers she addressed. This was further implied by the excessive use of name-dropping throughout. Never have I seen so many different people quoted in such a short article. She would bring up a new expert on the subject every other paragraph and only rehash straight forward things. Looking at the paragraph where she quotes Kay Halasek, only one or two sentences are original thoughts not quoted or credited to another name. I don’t want to say this wasn’t a well written informative article, because it was, but I felt extremely ostracized by the aggressive tone used throughout. As if by ever having used a five-paragraph essay I was nothing more than a mindless sheep among a herd of useless creatures called students. Writing is expressive by nature and to discredit forms of writing because they are easy or convenient seems silly. Sure at a higher level of education it should be expected that students are capable of more, but for regular high school students having rules isn’t the end of the world, in fact it is literally the beginning. There is nowhere to go but up from a five-paragraph essay so in my mind it isn’t nearly as evil as Brannon makes it out to be.

* It is really hard to openly disagree with a professional who works at my university, and I don’t have the credibility to justly defy her logic but seeing as this is a blog I wanted to share my opinion on the topic after addressing what I was expected to. (I can also end sentences with prepositions)

Transliteracy

To be literate in the 21st century takes more than satisfying the literal definition of being able to read and write. By modern, first-world standards if you aren’t literate you might as well find a cave and start painting pictures on walls. If just being able to read and write no longer qualifies you as literate what does? A word coined in 2005 “transliteracy” does justice to modern literacy, defined as the ability to read and understand concepts across a multitude of platforms: speech, writing, mass media and social media. The focus of literacy in 21st century America should be on critical thinking not on comprehension, we as a race are past the point of looking for context clues and are ready to delve deeper by asking questions and forming opinions.

As far as writing is concerned, the high-school taught five paragraph structure is clearly wrong. In the olden days, one could get away with structuring every single paper the exact same way with boring introductions, bland thesis statements and regurgitated facts spread across two pages.Good writing has no such guidelines. Transliteracy calls for us to break free from those boundaries into a more effective form of communication. A well written piece should contain proper grammar and be easy to read but the countless ways to do so are all equally valid. A 140-character tweet can be “good” writing in the same manner a fifty page thesis can so long as they convey the author’s intentions clearly and efficiently. I am not a “good” writer. I do not have grasp on grammar, I cannot convey my thoughts efficiently and I tend to ramble. Thus I do not think myself qualified to have grammar quirks as I often commit the most atrocious grammatical crimes imaginable. Yet it still is possibly one of the most important things to master in order to be a “good” writer.

It may be obvious that I agree with Mr. Jenkins about the problems with high-school writing rubrics. If however it was not obvious, let me make myself clear. I think the typical five to seven sentence paragraphs, five paragraph papers are horrible. In addition, the third-person standard is outrageous. But aside from the confounded rules they arbitrarily force onto students, I believe high-school does an okay job at preparing students for what is to come. The emphasis put on grammar is sufficient and the ability to write to a standard are necessary for students to be able to address a wide variety of topics. Sometimes the three topic persuasive paper is needed to construct a basis for further conversation, such as writing speeches. Having clear goals set out early in a speech allows you to guide their attention and develop a clear pace that is easy to follow. So while high-school writing may be lacking in diversity it does serve a purpose and instead of scrapping it altogether it would probably be best to improve it.