Freedman, “Show and Tell? The Role of Explicit Teaching in the Learning of new Genres”

Freedman, Aviva. “Show and Tell? The Role of Explicit Teaching in the Learning of New Genres.” PDF

Freedman is writing within lines of recent (of 1993) lines of research that reconceptualized genre, pointing particularly at Miller’s idea that genres are “typified rhetorical actions based on recurrent situations” (159, Freedman 222). Here, Freedman questions whether—or to what degree, or in what way—teacher-scholars can apply this new knowledge on genre to the teaching of genre; in other words, “what role, if any, can or should explicit teaching of genre features play in learning to write new genres?” (224). By explicit teaching of genre, she is referring to “explicit discussions, specifying the (formal) features of the genres, and/or articulating underlyaing rules” (224). She proposes two hypotheses:

  1. The Strong Hypotheses: This comes to three distinct lines of argument: (1) explicit teaching is unnecessary; (2) explicit teaching is for the most part not possible; (3) whenever explicit teaching does take place, there is risk of overlearning or misapplication.

Freedman hinges much of her discussion of these hypotheses on the tacit acquisition (as opposed to explicit learning) of genre that appears to play a major role for students’ abilities to write new genres. Using a introductory law course as a case study, Freedman demonstrated that students were able to successfully respond within the appropriate and accurate genre through their participation within the classroom community and disciplinary context “expressed in lectures, seminars, and course readings as well as to the implicit institutional values of a university where writing is elicited as part of a social contract committed by students, instructors the institution itself, and society at large” (229).

But further, not only does it appear unnecessary, but Freedman points to three considerations to also claim it is not possible: (1) “the rules for our language have not yet been describe dadequatyle even by the most sophistacted linguists” (232); (2) the riles that are known are simply too complex and too numerous to be explicitly taught in the context of writing or language instruction (232-3); and (3) student learner, themselves, are limited in what they are able to comprehend.

And lastly, referring to the third of the hypotheses, the explicit teaching of genre can be harmful. She notes, for example, that it is often the case that teachers may not themselves be participants of the community in which the genres are functioning and accordingly, do no understand “the complex rhetorical role of some features of the discourse” (234). And further, the explicit teaching may then inhibit students’ use of their tacit knowledge.

The goal then, for teachers operating in accepting these hypotheses, would be to “have a central role to play in setting up facilitative environments” (237), geared toward immersing students in authentic and considerable reading experiences (238).

  1. Restricted Hypotheses: retains much of the hypotheses of the first, but considers, “under certain conditions and for some learners, explicit teaching may enhance learning.

Freedman does not spend nearly as much time discussing this hypothesis than the first, but, referneicng the work of Ellis, sees an opportunity for explicit teaching and knowing (i.e. learning in Ellis’ terms) operating to support implicit knowledge (i.e. knowledge via acquisition per Ellis). Referencing Ellis, she writes, “conscious knowledge may also be able to ‘facilitate acquisition’ in certain situations. That is, explicit teaching may be able to ‘raise the consciousness’ of some learners so that they will later notice and hence acquire features in meaning-focused input” (243).


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