Reflections on a new assignment (and where am I?)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

For English 358 and to better understand the class structure, I created an assignment tentatively titled the Genre Memo (of which will become the Genre Letter for the online course this summer). I created this assignment because there was debate over genres that would be useful to students in a class full of social science and humanities majors. I also simply wanted to see what students valued as genre writing and why. (I had one student tell me already that she never saw designing and writing brochures as “writing” though she did see it as “designing.” Interesting.) The assignment aims to allow students to briefly describe their major ( in the introduction), list at least four types of genres in the main body of the assignment, and for each genre give a description of the genre (one paragraph) and a reflection on that genre (one paragraph), and then conclude the assignment by suggesting a way all these genres are linked (besides through the obvious in how “they are all genres in my field.”) Most students cap off this assignment by showing how these genres build off of each other or are all related to a specific career choice.

As for content, the assignments I’ve seen so far are done pretty well. Everyone understood the genre descriptions. I’ve seen a couple poor examples of reflections where a student just didn’t really want to say anything about the genre. (This might be due to the student just being unfamiliar with the genre and being unsure of how exactly to proceed in reflecting on that genre. Or I just maybe have badly taught/executed that part in some way, though most examples have been good. The problem here for me may be that I understand reflection far too well.)

As for design, there are a few things that could be improved. For example, I’ve seen font styles like you would use on a wedding invitation to serve as the title for the professional document. I’ve also seen bolded and pink font styles to signify a title (bolded isn’t a problem. Pink is the problem). I’ve seen quite a few very large fonts that serve for titles and just eat up the page, and this last one is the most often repeated. I have to admit the bold and pink style is the one that really threw me the most. The wedding font style I could see someone thinking as being “pretty and elegant” which somehow equals, in their mind, to a professional looking style. The bolded pink one was done mainly to irritate me, I assume.

Anyway, design will be something I will again have them work on. End of discussion.

But still, this assignment has really made me reflect on what kind of writing teacher I am and what I value in good writing and what I value in professionalism. As I discussed, I care a lot about the design of a document. I know I have a solid background in the humanities and therefore haven’t had much experience with design. All my prior programs were very traditional as in you wrote an essay and didn’t do anything related to design or C.R.A.P. (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity). But I love teaching document design and thinking about dorky concepts like the use and role of white space and why that font style would never work for this type of document. I also want writing to be succinct and get to the point. I hate paragraphs that go on and on, even when they say a lot. I want succinct description with minimum, but necessary, details. Beginning writers often get lost in too much detail.

All these writing values I hold make me realize I’m much more of a technical writer than I let on or even understand. Technical writing is a job I never thought I would want, but I like what is valued in technical communication. And I’ve realized that, as a teacher, this is the kind of writing style I communicate. It has not only made me see my teaching in a new way, but has also caused me to better realize my concepts of good writing and professionalism.

And the joke to all this is, of course, that I feel I know nothing about technical writing.

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