Monday, November 19, 2012
Prompt: As you reflect on all of the genres we have explored this semester, what have you learned about thus far about the specific features of texts (i.e., the specific features of the genres)? Which genres did you think you knew well at the start of this class, but you now have developed a deeper, more principled understanding of? Which genres did you not know much about, but now you do? Which, if any, still intimidate you as a reader and a writer and why?
I truly feel that the genre presentation for this course benefited me as an educator because I am not able to see the vast learning opportunities and content integration they possess. Before the start of this course I felt that I had the strongest grasp on narrative and expository writing. Much of this was due to my own experiences within the genre and having taught both genres in my own classroom. While I do not have as much experience writing expository text, I taught an entire unit on it my sixth grade classroom. This teaching experience allowed me to see just how intriguing and powerful expository text can be. The genre I thought I knew best was the biography genre particularly the autobiography and memoir aspect of it. Since this was my own expert presentation genre, I've now realized how much deeper an understanding I have for the genre and its relationship to narrative. I really enjoyed relating my favorite aspect of the biography genre, the impact of life stories, with narrative.
Something that took me by surprise was how little I knew, or maybe remembered, about the letter genre. It seems like such straight-forward systematic writing, that I forgot the elegance and sincerity that comes with letters and post-cards. In today's society we are so automatic. We want immediate responses, which e-mail sent straight to our smart-phones allows for. I feel that this almost tarnishes the beauty of letter writing. Recently my younger-cousin Patrick was sent to Marine basic-training. We could not call him or e-mail him. We could only write letters. We all wrote him letters, and I doubt most of ours followed the letter template perfectly, but it made me realize how precious words and communication are. For instance, his sister wrote him every week. She literally wrote him the day he left, and as soon as she mailed the letter, she couldn't stand the wait. She went home on her lunch breaks to check her mail. She waited at the door for the mailman or woman to deliver. Each time the mailman or woman came empty handed, without a letter from Patrick it pained her. Finally, about two weeks after he left, she went home on her lunch-break and received a letter from her brother. Well, needless to say, we were all shocked when normally this man of few words, who refused to take pictures with him to training, wrote a two page letter to his sister perfectly formatted the way a letter should be. He had the return address with the date, a greeting, a perfectly paragraphed body, and a complimentary closing with his awful, scratchy signature. While the letter was very cordial and didn't mention any agony of training camp or unbearable home sickness, Patrick did ask her to send him pictures in the next letter she sent. This brought everyone in my family to tears. Who thought that a letter, something that we seem to think of as long gone and forgotten could have such an impact on hearts waiting for a simple reply from a dearly missed relative. This truly made me realize the magnitude of what Tompkins (2012) says in her letter chapter, "It's important to teach students about letter formats; letter writing is a like skill they'll need, even in the 21st century" (p. 123). I recognize now more than ever how true this is.
Descriptive writing has always been a somewhat intimidating genre because it seems like such a lofty tasks. Real writers, authors, are the only ones who can master descriptive writing. They incorporate original metaphors and similes that paint pictures in the mind and allow us to travel to different times and spaces without moving from our reading chair. While, the genre is still a bit intimidating, I really appreciate the way the descriptive writing experts broke down the techniques in their packet. While I was absent from class when they presented, their packet allowed me to understand more fully the elements of the descriptive writing genre; specific information, word choice, sensory images, figurative language, and dialogue. I knew that dialogue was part of the descriptive genre, but the way in which Tompkins (2012) explains its importance to the genre was something that I had never considered before; "dialogue adds power to writing and introduces a tension between characters. Writers use dialogue to move a story forward, provide information, and flesh out characters" (p. 141). From my prior writing experience I was aware that dialogue should be meaningful. I considered meaningful to be not just pointless banter that doesn't reveal anything about the story such as characters or the setting. Tompkins's (2012) explanation, however, conveyed to me that dialogue does much more than simply talk, it makes writing come to life. It reveals traits about a character without having to come right out and say them. It allows students to infer and move a story forward by bringing in multiple perspective and incorporating language other than narration. For example, using regional dialects or distinct speech patterns, not only reveals information about the characters, but also contributes to the setting, the time-period, and may give students information that they can use to infer about other aspects of the story. This makes teaching dialogue so imperative.
The presenters also did a nice job of including key points about using dialogue in writing. Word choice, another aspect of the genre, goes hand in hand with dialogue. The packet mentions that the lead into dialogue, such as using the word "said" too often can subtract from the dialogue itself, therefore word choice and being cognizant of how you introduce dialogue is crucial. This introduction of dialogue also deals with punctuation. Dialogue is completely reliant on punctuation; quotations, commas, periods, ellipses. Dialogue not only needs punctuation to be correct, but it also needs punctuation so that the reader can more easily focus on what the dialogue is trying to say about the story rather than how it is presented. These are definitely imperative teaching points I will incorporate into my own instruction of the descriptive genre.
Overall, I feel that the opportunity to explore these reading and writing genres was one that is vastly beneficial to my pedagogy and classroom instruction. So often we do not see the relationship between the genres in reading and writing. Using mentor texts as a way to connect the two is in my opinion the most important element I can take away from this aspect of the course, "Reading Improvement through Writing." Exploring and experimenting with genre within both reading and writing exemplifies how this statement is true.