Problems and Possibilities: Reading and Writing Genres in Context

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Summer 2006

Project Description/Abstract

This proposal details a textbook that would attempt to address a longstanding problem in the teaching of first-year composition. There are two types of textbooks typically used to teach first-year composition—rhetorics and readers—and each type has limitations. Rhetorics, which typically impart strategies for how to write effectively, are not used by many instructors. This lack of widespread use most likely stems from rhetorics’ failure to engage student interest, which in turn likely stems from the fact that rhetorics do not teach at the point of need.

Still another problem is presented by readers (collections of writings designed to hone reading strategies, provide topics for students to write about, and provide models of effective writing). While readers tend to engage student interest, many of them do not adequately focus students’ attention on rhetorical strategies and issues of genre. This can result in a “genre blindness” that encourages students to overgeneralize: unless students understand how and why rhetorical strategies work in the context of particular genres, they may “import” those strategies into other genres, thus ending up with writing that fails to achieve its purpose.

The proposed textbook would seek to address this “genre blindness” problem—along with the rhetoric’s “point of need” problem—by 1) teaching genre-specific strategies, and 2) teaching them at the point of need. The proposed book, a reader with a twist, would accomplish this by

  • featuring writing assignments (activities) that teach genre-specific strategies at the point of need, as part of the actual writing prompt, and
  • providing an apparatus [1]that would highlight how the rhetorical strategies used in each reading selection are genre-specific.

[1] “Apparatus” refers to the writing assignments in the textbook, the discussion questions following each reading selection, and the headnotes introducing each reading.

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