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A Focus on Purpose Using a Genre

A Focus on Purpose Using a Genre

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Published by: Majddi on Aug 11, 2010
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A focus on purpose: using a genreapproach in an
writing class
Gordon Myskow and Kana Gordon
This article shows how a genre approach has been used in an
high school writingcoursetoteachtheuniversityapplicationlettergenretostudentspreparing  for post-secondary studies. The authors discuss specific classroom materials toillustratehowagenre-basedapproachcanbeemployed,notsimplytoteachstatitextual patterns but to help learners gain a richer understanding of the complex relationship between written texts and the social contexts in which they aresituated. The article begins with a brief overview of L2 writing scholarship, and astheauthorsacknowledge,someoverlapexistsbetweencontemporarygenre-based pedagogies and earlier product approaches. The authors argue, however, thatawareness of the (somewhat slippery) distinction between these approaches isessential, if teachers are to present genres as resources to be drawn on to helplearnersachievespecific socialpurposesrather than inflexible texttemplatesto beprescriptively imitated.
Helping L2 writers to first recognize and then replicate commongrammatical patterns and rhetorical structures of various text types hasbeen observed in classrooms since the very beginning of L2 writingscholarship in the 1960s (Raimes 1991; Matsuda 2003). In academicwriting, for example, the basic generic constituents of an essay such asa thesis statement at the end of an introduction and topic sentences at thebeginningofbodyparagraphshaveoftenbeenprescriptivelytaughtwiththeexpectation (requirement) that writers compose their own essays inaccordance with these formulaic patterns. Such teaching strategies havelongbeen thehallmarkofwhathascometobecalledtheproductapproachor current traditional rhetoric (Matsuda ibid.).Recentgenre analysisscholarship, however, has showngenrestobehighlycomplexentitiesthatcannotbeproperlyunderstoodindependentlyoftheirsocial contexts (for example Bhatia 2004). The relation between a text andits context is so complex that some scholars (for example Coe 2002: 201)have questioned the usefulness of teaching the textual structures of a workplace or academic genre in composition classrooms—a place thatisoftenfarremovedfromthesocialcontextsinwhichthegenresareactuallysituated. This article aims to show how such limitations of a classroomsettingmaybeovercomebyemployingagenre-basedapproachthatfocuseson writing tasks that are timely and relevant to the particular needs of writers.
Journal; doi:10.1093/elt/ccp057 
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The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
ELT Journal Advance Access published July 27, 2009
Theauthorsdescribehowtheyhaveusedthegenreofuniversityapplicationletters to help Japanese
high school students in a writing class gaina richer understanding of the complex relationship between written textsand the social contexts in which they are situated. Before exploring howexactlythegenreapproachwasemployedinourcontext,itwillbenecessaryto distinguish between a genre-based approach and the earlier product-based approach since these pedagogies, though quite distinct in theory,share a similar focus on discourse patterns.
Product and genreapproaches
What are thedifferences?
Prior to the burgeoning of process-based pedagogies in the 1970s and1980s, the product approach was the dominant approach in L2 writing(Raimes1991;Matsuda2003).AccordingtoRaimes(ibid.)historicalsurveyofL2writing,product-orientedpedagogieswerecharacterizedbyafocusonaccuracy and the ‘imitation of paragraph or essay form’ (p. 409). Typicalclassroom activities included writing from an outline, paragraphcompletion,identificationoftopicandsupport,andscrambledsentencestoreorder. In thisapproach,thetextsthatwriters aretoproducerepresenttheentry point of instruction, and they are largely seen as autonomous objectsthat can be ‘analyzed or described independently of particular contexts,writers, or readers(Hyland 2002: 6).Product-basedapproachesbecamewidelycriticizedbyanumberofscholarsfor reasons that included: constraining the freedom of writers (Rohman1965: 108) and an over-emphasis on the surface level features of writing(Zamel 1987: 700). During the 1970s and 1980s, the many variations of processpedagogiescametodominatethefieldofL2writingscholarship(forexample Zamel ibid.).Sincethe late1980s, however, there hasonce again beena ‘paradigm shift’in L2 writing from process- to genre-based pedagogies (Johns 2002b: 3).Atkinson (2003: 3) even argues that the changes in L2 scholarship are socomprehensivethatthefieldhasentereda‘post-processera’.Thoughsomescholars have expressed reservations about using such terms to describethese changes (for example Matsuda op. cit.), the genre approach hasundoubtedly been the subject of much recent discussion in the field of L2writing (for example Hyland 2003; Johns, Bawarashi, Coe, Hyland,Paltridge, Reiff, and Tardy 2006).Proponents of genre-based pedagogies have attempted to broadentraditional conceptions of genres by characterizing them not just in termsof their linguistic properties but their social functions as well. Hyland(inJohns
ibid.:237),forexample,explainsthatgenresare‘agroupingof textsbasedonhowwritersuselanguagetorespondtoandconstructtextsforreoccurringsituations’.Inthesamearticle(p.235),Paltridgedescribesthemsimply as ‘the ways in which people get things done through the use of language in particular contexts’. This emphasis on the social dimensionof genres represents a major point of departure from earlier productapproaches. In genre-based pedagogies, developing an understanding of thesocialcontextwithinwhichtextsaresituatedistheproperentrypointof instruction. A focus then on the linguistic and rhetorical features of a textshouldonlycomeafterasocialcontexthasbeenestablished(Hyland2002:96–111).
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Gordon Myskow and Kana Gordon
However,onewaythatgenreandproductapproachesmayappeartooverlapisintheirfocusonthelargertextualfeaturesbeyondthesentence.Indeed,if the goal of a lesson is to familiarize students with the conventionalizeddiscourse patterns of a text, the activities associated with the productapproachlistedabove,suchaswritingfromanoutlineandidentificationof topic and support may not be out of place in a genre-based classroom.However, one crucial difference is that genre-based pedagogies aim todevelopamoreflexibleunderstandingofgenericstructuresandthewaysinwhich genres interact (Johns 2002a: 57–84).
Why does thedifference matter?
Astheabovediscussionshows,genresarenotrigid,texttemplates;theyarehighly complex entities that interact with one another in dynamic ways. Apedagogy, therefore, that prescribes inflexible textual patterns may inhibita writer’s ability to transfer their knowledge of text structure to tasks thatrequire a more complex combination of generic forms. As Coe (2002)points out, thesis statements do not always appear in introductions and‘unityofpurposemaybesignifiedwithoutevenusingathesisstatement’(p.201).HeevenraisesthepossibilitythatpriorknowledgeoftextualstructuressuchastheEnglishessayandtheresearchpapermayactlike‘firstlanguageinterferencewhen students approach other writing tasks (p. 201).In order for writers to effectively use their knowledge of genre conventionsto fulfil a variety of social purposes, they need to possess a high level of cognitiveflexibility.Whileaproductapproachmayhelpastudenttoimitatetheprescriptiverhetoricalstructureofafive-paragraphargumentativeessay,this imitation does little to promote the cognitive versatility necessary torespond to other argumentative essay prompts that require the writer toincorporate different text types, such as compare/contrast or cause–effect.In order to develop an appreciation of how genres may be ‘bent’ or ‘mixed(Bhatia 2004) to fulfil communicative purposes, studentstheories of howgenres are structured need to be ‘destabilized(Johns 2002a: 57–84).Another important reason for distinguishing between product and genrerelatestothesocialrealityofgenres.Inherdiscussionofacademicdiscoursecommunities,Johns(1997)showshowgenresanddiscoursecommunitiesare interdependent: genres are the conventionalized forms that ‘enablemembers throughout the world to maintain their goals, regulate theirmemberships, andcommunicateefficientlywithoneanother(p.52) whileat the same time it is the members of discourse communities who canchoosetomaintainorbreakgenreconventions(p.68).Simplylearningtherhetorical patterns of autonomous texts alienated from the communitiesthat they both help to create and are created in may result in a kind of ‘hidden curriculum’ in which the key to understanding the complex waysgenresareusedforsocialpurposes isnotexplicitlyaddressed.Afterall,itisin the social dimension of these communities where genres make sense(Hyland 2003: 23).
Using a genreapproach to teachuniversityapplication letters
Thoughentranceexamsarethemostcommonwayforhighschoolstudentsin Japan togainentry touniversity, there are a number of other applicationprocessesavailabletocandidates,suchasentrancebyrecommendationandoral interviews. Another requirement that some university departmentshave begun to use as part of their application process is the English
Using a genre approach in an
writing class
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