GENRE: Research in the Teaching of English

Williams, Joseph M. and Gregory G. Colomb. “The Case for Explicit Teaching: Why What You Don’t Know Won’t Help You.” PDF

In Williams and Colomb’s response to Freedman, they agree with the premise that “our decisions about what and how we teach should be informed by knowledge of how students learn, of what there is to learn, and of the effectiveness of specific techniques in specific situations, both short- and long-term. The more we know, the better we can decide what to make explicit and what not” (260). However, they believe the framing of Freedman’s two hypotheses and the research contributing to her belief that explicit teaching is (1) no necessary, (2) not possible, and (3) potentially harmful is exaggerated or not founded in current composition research.

Williams and Colomb then revise Freedman’s original two hypotheses to something they believe is more researchable and prudent:

            “When we explicitly teach specific feature [F] in situation [S], how many students [N] reap benefit [B] (learning, retention, adaptability, confidence, etc.) at what cost [C] (time, demands on students, knowledge and training required or us, etc.)?” (253).

The authors then go through each of the premises outlined by Freedman and critique their salience—they particularly take up Freedman’s privileging of tacit knowledge by countering that “teachers promote learning ‘by making explicit their tacit knowledge or by modeling their strategies for students in authentic activity ” (257). In their concluding remarks, the authors point out that Freedman’s de-emphasis on explicit teaching is appealing to those who “worry that writing across the curriculum might ultimately be a form of academic colonialism and to those who seek to insulate students from the power of teachers’ influence and agendas” (262). However, as they write, avoiding the ideological question places students at a disadvantage by ignoring a student’s ability to empower students the ways in which to “participate in the communities they encounter and to what degree they will let that participation define who and what they are” (262). In other words, not addressing ideological commitments may also be a form of oppressive pedagogy.

Fahnestock, Jeanne. “Genre and Rhetorical Craft.”PDF

In Fahnestock’s response to Freedman, she is focused primarily on two aspects of Freedman’s piece that raises some questions that would need to be cleared. First, Fahnestock returns to Freedman’s concept of genre and likewise, what it means to explicitly teach genre and what role genre instruction has played historically. Toward this first point, she points out that while Freedman embraces Miller’s new conception of genre as typified social actions that respond to recurring situations, this is largely left behind as Freedman moves throughout their piece. Particularly, unlike Miller, Freedman eventually begins to conflate form and genre—for Miller, “Genre is distinct from form: Form is the more general term used at all levels of the hierarchy. Genre is form at one particular level that is a fusion of lwer-level forms and characteristic substance” (Miller 163; cited in Fahnestock 267).

Second, Fahnestock confronts Freedman’s craft vs. body of knowledge binary. As she notes, while learning a craft in an apprentice model does include tactile knowledge, “there is also an overwhelming body of transmitted verbal explanation and system. There is no craft or ‘art’ without an explication of its principles so that they can be applied across situations” (269). This, of course, connects to transfer research: the explication of a theory of writing better supports writing across contexts. For Fahnestock, to test the efficacy of instruction in techne and no instruction in techne, it would require “a class of wolf children” (270).

Freedman, Aviva. “Situating Genre: A Rejoinder.” PDF

Here, Freedman responds to the critiques leveled by Fahnestock and Williams & Colomb. Beginning with Fahnestock, Freedman reiterates her definition of genre, rooted in Miller(see: Miller). But Freedman also takes up Fahnestock’s critique of the teaching of techne. Specifically, Freedman makes a distinction between the explication of procedural strategies and the explications of “features or rules characterizing the crafted product” (274). As she writes, explication is always part of the learning of a craft, but is typically situated within the context of that craft; thus (and this is a frequent cadence in this rebuttal), falls under her hedged Restricted Hypotheses. Her response to Williams & Colomb can be summarized into two major themes: first, much of what Williams and Colomb describe fall into the Restricted Hypothesis—thus, they don’t really disagree on all that much—or they are either ignoring the robustness of the research she has already described or they do not provide enough robust research themselves to back up their criticism. She then invites teacher-scholars to publish what they have researched in their own practices to flesh out these disagreements.


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