Genre assignment and the act of writing with your students

Monday, January 17th, 2011

I’m teaching a new class this semester. An upper division writing class for majors in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Last semester, there was some discussion in a class I was taking about genres that are appropriate for UDW courses, particularly for the course on Humanities/SS because there are so many different majors, and about having students not only write in genres in their disciplines, but also reflect on the genres.

With these discussions in mind, I created an assignment that hits all these marks. The assignment has the following goals:

  • To help students realize that writing will be a component of their professional lives
  • To help students learn about genres in their field of study
  • To have students not only learn about those genres, but do some reflection on them.

The assignment as I have it now is copied below. Next time I teach this, I am going to have them write this assignment as an Informal Report and not as a Memo. I’m keeping the memo now only because I found a great chapter on informal reports in a text that I am unfortunately not using, but will for future courses of this class. Plus, I think a memo format will be easier for them to understand and the prep work for the memo won’t be as much as for the Informal Report style. So the memo is what we will use for this semester, just for ease and clarity sake.

Assignment #2—Genre Report (Memo format)

Total Points: 100 points

Length: 2-3 pgs single-spaced, Memo format, 12-point font

Due date:  Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Assignment Description: We have spent some time in class by now discussing genres—what genres are, types of genres, and so forth—and you should also be familiar with the idea of genre from your English 120 course.   With this understanding of genre, I ask you talk to a professor in your discipline and do some outside research to see what common genres exist in your field of study. You may talk to people already in the workforce to see what kinds of writing they do, talk to a professor or two about genres familiar in your field, and do some library research. Once you have a list of a few genres (goal is 4-6), take some time and write a memo that includes:

  • A brief introduction of your discipline and field
  • A listing of each genre followed by
  • A description of that genre (format, what it includes, reason for the genre, etc)
  • A paragraph that provides a reflection on that genre. Answer questions like what do you think about the genre, what difficulties, if any, would you find as a writer of that genre, what questions you have about the genre, etc

If you are able to find examples of a genre, you will be rewarded 3 extra points per example.

Deliverables: Please submit this by Wednesday, Feb 2nd

If someone in the class has the same discipline and field as you, feel free to work together to complete this assignment. You may help each other by finding other resources the other didn’t, for example. But you are each expected to turn in your own assignment.

Audience: other teachers of this course, professionals in your field, your classmates, and of course me.

Objectives: learn about the genres in your discipline, be able to identify genres and the cultural contexts that create them

Criteria for grading:

  • Content: All content described in the assignment sheet and present and complete. This includes a brief introduction of discipline and field, a listing and description of each genre described, short paragraph of importance and follows the memo format.
  • Professional presentation: assignment is given as a memo or professional report and looks professional with attention to good design elements (think back to C.R.A.P discussion we had in class. If you want any review notes posted, I can do so via blackboard.)
  • Writing Skills: Good academic writing. Good grammar and mechanics. Proper diction used that is relevant to your field.
  • Extra credit (if applicable): examples of genre(s) (3 points per genre example.)

I hope this assignment will achieve all that I want it to do. Though I don’t explicitly ask students to discover how much writing they will actually do on a weekly or daily basis on their job, I think the idea of this is inherent in the structure of the assignment. Obviously, writing will be done on the job and that writing will use appropriate cultural conventions and professional styles. I hope they learn this.

As their teacher, I learn each day. (I hope they realize I’m serious when I tell them this and not trying to be profound in any way.  And some of them will someday be teachers themselves.)

Another important thing I have learned is the act of writing with your students. For example, I have completed all but the last two assignments for this course beforehand. I’ve written the freedom definition assignment. I’ve written this genre memo, though wrote it as if I were a creative writing major (and I was once upon a time). All the other assignments I have either written or will write with them. Even when they do freewrites in class, I do the same. This act of writing with the students seems to work well. I have done it one other time before–when I was teaching 101 at Mankato–and it worked well, too. I am not sure why I ever stopped it. I probably was in the midst of thesis work and just ran out of time, or felt there wasn’t any, which is rather inexcusable, but the truth. Like Dr. Sassi told us, “I never expect my students to do anything I am not also willing to do.” Good advice, I think.


One comment on “Genre assignment and the act of writing with your students

  1. DocMara says:

    Wow. This shows some serious pedagogical commitment. Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher!

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