Although every first year composition instuctor doesn't teach a genre analysis unit, every teacher has
their students work in multiple genres throughout a semester. Whether students are conducting a rhetorical analysis or crafting a literacy narrative, they are constantly navigating through, what Charles Bazerman calls, the "discursive landscapes" that we, as composition instructors, value.
The University of North Carolina's "Genre Project," one of links on the ENGL 111 Library Guide, gives perspective to the idea that by assigning our students various essays that we are also assigning them various genres. The "Genre Project" surveyed first year composition courses throughout the country in order to compile data which determines the most frequently assigned genres.
The larger bubbles in this diagram represent the genres most assigned in composition courses. This data isn't striking, as these are familiar assignments to us all, until it is compared with the assigned genres of other courses. Here is "first year law" for example:
As can be seen, the genres students have to learn to navigate through become vastly different as they enter their various fields. The task of preparing our students to write in every acedemic genre becomes daunting, impossible. Genre theorists such as Charles Bazerman help us negotiate this multitude of competing genres by questioning the way we think about genre in the first place. In "The Life of Genre, the Life in the Classroom," Bazerman contends that genres are not just forms to teach but "forms of life, ways of being...frames for social action [and] environments for learning. They are the locations within which meaning is constructed. Genres shape the thoughts we form and the communications by which we interact." In other words, genre forms and is informed by both the patterns of our thought and the shape of our learning environment. What this means is that genre isn't a format to learn but a sense of hightened awareness to be cultivated.
According to Amy Devitt this awareness is actually a "critical awareness." In her article, "Teaching Critical Genre Awareness" she explains that, "genre teaching can indeed be formulaic and constraining, if genres are taught taught as forms without social or cultural meaning. Genre teaching can also be enlightening and freeing, if genres are taught as part of a larger critical awareness." What this means is that our essays, our genres, that we assign should be taught with some awareness as to their role in the acedemic discourse community. This helps make the rhetorical choices inherent in these different forms visible to our students. By demistying genre, our English 111 students gain what Devitt calls, "genre awareness." Armed with this awareness, Devitt argues that students, once they leave our classrooms, can "distance themselves from the everyday practices of the genres that surround them but also can act, can participate in those genres." In order to help students become informed and form the various genre practices they encounter, I hope you all consider using resources the English 111 Library Guide provides. With the help of the guide's videos and resources such as the "Genre Project," perhaps our students will be the ones crafting our future genre landscapes.