Dirk creates a likeable, breezy tone here, and seems flexible and easily amused. I’ll bet that if she’s in the classroom, her students like her. She uses many engaging examples throughout—a ransom note, the Onion—and models for us the kind of language and ideas that work well with students.

My favorite part, for personal reasons, was when she called out that essay writing formula (the standard Baker keyhole, basically) drilled into students in many high schools. When it is really adhered to, it results in lockstep writing, and it seems actively to prevent personal expression. As she says about it, “But looking back, what resulted from such formulas was not very good; actually, it was quite bad.” I taught high school English back in my twenties, and the way we were supposed to prepare students for the Regents looked exactly like the bad writing that Kirk describes. I always felt that the tactic was based on the fear that if we tried to communicate something more elemental about writing, the students would be neither prepared for the Regents, nor would they be able to create the more original type of writing. Not teaching them to cling to the formula might leave them drowning. Dirk throws out that idea summarily!

I like this way of looking at genre and rhetoric. The widening of rhetorical ideas in the classroom seems especially helpful as a way to connect with the students, and by teaching them what is essentially a form of careful reading, we can help our students to be more effective, thoughtful, and alert in all their communications. I feel like my students will relate to this because of its practical implications, but I like it too because of its artistic ones.

Dirk includes a quote about the “homely discourses” that we’re involved in every day, and grounding what we do in the idea that genre is ubiquitous feels like an effective approach. Teaching genre awareness feels like a sharpening of the approach to teaching ENG 1101.

2 thoughts on “

  1. Grant Crawford

    Prof. Schanzer,

    I have to agree with you on the classic essay formula that students carry from high school writing into college writing. I think that dismantling that formula as the expectation in composition courses is part of Dirk’s goal within her piece. The problem with that particular genre is that for most students, it is a genre that exclusively exists within a writing class. Sure, there are some benefits one can derive from learning how to structure a classic argumentative paper, but being that it is a form of writing that is so foreign from day-to-day writing, it becomes this daunting and mysterious entity for students. There are ways to achieve the same learning goals captured by a traditional essay structure or formula that are far more approachable and relevant to students, especially these days. I think that expanding our own genre awareness, and sharing that understanding with students in our classrooms, is a great way to begin this shift.

    1. Prof. Edelson

      “When it is really adhered to, it results in lockstep writing, and it seems actively to prevent personal expression…” — such an interesting concept. Does adherence to a certain genre or structure or formula help or hurt personal expression? As a student, I craved structure because my mind was all over the place and I was always really grateful to have the standard five paragraph essay to fall back on. I felt liberated by it… but that’s so individual and I know other writers who have really struggled with it.

Leave a Reply