So, I sat down at my computer just now and thought to myself, “I really should write an essay comparing me and my brother” … no, wait, “comparing watching a DVD with going to the movies”, … or, even better, “comparing large cars to small cars” … said no-one, ever.
Throughout this genre makeover series, I’ve attempted to show how boring and meaningless writing assignments become when rhetoricalmodes are confused for genres. One way to understand a mode is as a pattern of development. For example, there are writing tasks that call for you to compare stuff, but you rarely do it just for the sake of the comparison: there has to be a purpose to the comparison. That’s where genre comes in. Continue reading “Genre Makeover: The Compare/Contrast Essay”
For some reason, in the usual litany of rhetorical modes that are mistaken for genres in writing textbooks, problem/solution is often omitted, which is unfortunate because this one is actually useful. But before you rush to class and assign a “problem/solution essay,” let’s give it the genre makeover treatment and consider why anyone might write about problems and their solutions. Continue reading “Genre Makeover: Problems and Solutions”
One of the strongest arguments against the five-paragraph essay is that the 5PE approach to writing (textbooks) tends to confuse mode with genre. Briefly, rhetorical modes are patterns of development, such as description, comparison, causation, or — the focus of this post — process. Genres are the ways we get things done with language in social contexts. Genres might include pedagogical genres (describing an economic principle on a test; writing a lab report), professional genres (user manuals; methodology sections), or home genres (recipes, Facebook rants). We know we use genres, but for some reason we don’t always teach them. Continue reading “Genre Makeover: The Process Essay”
One of the staples of ESL textbooks and writing courses is the descriptive essay. I’m not honestly sure what one of this is: description is definitely an important mode of writing, but when would we describe anything in the form of an essay? Even worse, this assignment is often used as an excuse to drill features that are inappropriate for this type of writing (a description can’t have a thesis because it’s not making an argument!). Continue reading “Genre Makeover: The Descriptive “Essay””
Why did we produce a second edition? The first edition of Grammar Choices was published in 2012, so it’s had a healthy life-span of 6 years, but of course academic English hasn’t changed much in that time! With any second edition, you have to strike a balance between adding and changing enough to justify a new edition, while not alienating users who liked the first edition. There’s always going to be a reading, exercise, or example that you’re angry at me for dropping (sorry).
I work in an intensive English program, whose purpose is to prepare international students for undergraduate and graduate degrees in the US. (So this would be a good time to note that all opinions on this blog are mine alone!)
I’m increasingly bothered by the idea of education as preparation. To some extent, it’s true: we need our schools to prepare young (and not so young) people to contribute usefully to society and fulfill their own potential. Such has always been one of the functions of schooling: education is a public as well as a private good. It’s also true that we in ESL have a duty to help our students develop the language proficiency that will help them accomplish their future academic, professional, and personal goals. To that extent, my teaching is very much concerned with preparation.
But I have a problem when the goal of preparation so dominates our mindset as teachers, curriculum designers, materials writers, and administrators that the lesson, course, or program ceases to have any meaning as an educational experience in itself.
My colleague Monica Farling and I published a short piece in the April 2018 TESOL Connections based on our 2017 conference workshop on collaborative writing. Check it out and let me know what you think!
A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to Japan to speak at JALT and visit some schools and universities with the wonderful representatives from OUP. During a book fair at a university near Tokyo, a tall Australian ex-pat teacher asked me if we had any books on critical thinking. I dutifully pointed him to a series I’d written for which has “critical thinking tips” and explained how we tried to embed them in the content and assignments. “No,” he frowned, “I want a book that just teaches critical thinking, not a language textbook.”
Honestly, I have no idea what that kind of book would look like, and I certainly couldn’t write it. I’m not even sure what critical thinking means, and I’ve been teaching academic ESL for over 15 years. So I’ve stopped talking about critical thinking, and I don’t claim to teach it. I’ll leave thinking to the psychologists and philosophers.