‘I was just never exposed to this argument thing’

‘I was just never exposed to this argument thing’: using a genre approach to teach academic writing to ESL students in the Humanities.

Rochelle Kapp and Bongi Bangeni, University of Cape Town.
Forthcoming in: Herrington, A. and Moran, C. Genre Across the Curriculum. (Utah Press). PDF

Transition from school to university

* The students find the new discourse constraining and demanding in its many rules, its formality, its requirement to engage in close analysis and to consider the views of others in producing an argument.

“…they navigate not only among ways of using language but, indeed, among world’s.” (Discourse)

Why and how to use a genre approach to help students ‘navigate’ their entry into the disciplines.

The Social Science essay as a tool to open up a conversation about the nature of the discourse.

Through an exploration of its strengths and weaknesses, we argue that whilst a genre approach is a key resource for providing metaknowledge of the discourse conventions, it does not provide the necessary exploratory talking and writing space to enable students from outside the dominant discourses to become critical participants.

Cope and Kalantzis:
* they empahsize that the need to facilitaite access to dominant discourses by teaching explicitly the text types that characterise the discourse.
* they argue that genre teaching has to go beyond focussing on how texts function, to teaching the ideological underpinnings of form (the why). This is especially relevant in a world where there is an increasing emphasis on instrumental educational outcomes, as well as persistent calls for a return to teaching decontextualized grammatical form.

On the basis of our experience and research, we believe that for literacy teaching to be successful in contexts where students are entering into discourses substantially different from their earlier socialisation, students’ identities have to be taken into account because they are entering into new subjectivities.

Cope and Kalantzis:
* Advocate a dialogue between the culture of schooling and the cultures of students.
* interpret a process approach narrowly, as a validation of student voices; whereas the approach can provide a space for students to enter the academic conversation through exploration and dialogue.

** Our goal is to combine genre, process and academic literacy approaches in such a way that conscious ‘learning’ of genres through explicit mediations of form, and the development of a shared metalanguage, is placed alongside ‘acquisition’.
To become members of their disciplines, students have to learn how to learn how to situate themselves within the academic conversation with critical reflection.

‘Voice’ as personal opinion versus textual identity in academic writing.

Clark and Ivanic: point out that we need to make writers aware ‘that their discoursal choices construct an image of themselves and that they need to take control over this as much as they can, not so that they can deceive their readers but so that they do not betray themselves.’

Module – Taal en identiteit (Language & Identity): Working out their position in the academic conversation through analysis and engagement with the other participants.

Reading and Writing skills are taught using debates about culture and cross-cultural contact.

Content and skills are viewed as inseparable: Genre knowledge embraces both form and content, including a sense of what content is appropriate to a particular purpose in a particular situation at a particular point in time.

Engaging students in verbal debate and exploratory talk in which they view their experiences and common-sense understandings alongside other perspectives, thus also constitutes an important part of the ‘acquisition’ process: articulating and clarifying ideas which may be difficult to express elsewhere.

Next step is to move into genre analysis: to illustrate how writers articulate their membership of particular discourse communities.
This is crucial to our belief that they can disagree with, but not ignore, the new discourses and ideologies with which they are confronted.

Students have very little meta-awareness of how grammar works to create meaning.

We teach mind-mapping tools to enable them to plan their essays by identifying, summarising and comparing the different views of culture.

We look at how coherence and cohesion are established in writing, playing particular attention to linguistic markers of cohesion such as conjunctions and pronouns, because they pose particular difficulties.

Improvement happens through self-reflection and dialogue with their teachers and their peers.

We mark students’ drafts, using the metalanguage of the course and the explicit marking criteria to draw attention to how they have defined, used authority and to where coherence has worked or broken down.

For these students the ‘Culture’ module had achieved its goal of not only teaching the discourse conventions, but of helping students to move beyond the defensive positions in their first essays towards exploring their ‘becoming-selves’, in relation to the discourse.

We believe that the process of learning/acquiring the discourse must include space for students to explore who they are and who they are becoming.  Our task is to help students develop meta-awareness of the image constructed by their ‘discoursal choices’.

…to acknowledge the extent to which students make strategic choices based on their own agendas.

Goal: That they use their metaknowledge of genre to engage in close critical analysis of the readings and to present their observations to their peers.

Students learn quite quickly how to make many of the discoursal moves that characterise academic language. Acquiring ownership of a position takes much longer.

Genre Pedagogy: A genre approach is a key resource for providing initial generic access to the discourse. However, acquiring the deep structure of the disciplines and becoming critical members of the discourse is a process, and has to be continually addressed within the context of the disciplines over time.

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