Love, Hiphop, and Genre: Syracuse

In the last two years, as I’ve revised my pedagogy to center writing studies content in my composition classrooms, there have repeatedly been words–terms, concepts, really–that I joke with students they’ll be sick of by the end of a unit or semester. Last fall, in my freshman 105 class, they were: literacy, discourse, and composition.

This term it was all genre. Genre, genre, genre, genre, genre.

Yes, I took my department’s challenge to use genre as the lens through which we approached all assignments and concepts, using genre to access the same concepts of students’ literacies (what genres do they write in?), discourse (what are the discursive demands of different genres?) and even, yes of course, hiphop. (Who knew sampling was a discursive practice with its roots in African-American rhetorical practice? Oh, ok. We did. But my frosh didn’t. But now they do!)

I want to take this opportunity to reflect about how this went.

First of all, my successes. And there’s one I’m really proud of: this is the best I’ve ever done at convincing my non-humanities students–and in today’s preprofessional university, this is most of them–that writing will matter for them in their major and their career. The engine of this recognition was their third unit assignment, which asked them to research a genre they expect to write in in their major or career and interview at least one person who writes in it regularly. My students researched press releases, sports play-by-plays, children’s books, spoken word poetry, medical textbook chapters, biomedical research articles, engineering field reports, event planning proposals, movie reviews, lab reports, health and safety plans, and more. And beyond recognizing about the real audiences, exigencies, and discourses engaged by these genres, they also repeatedly noted and reflected upon the fact that writing was going to follow them into their futures, a reality many had not accepted when they first entered my class.

Without a doubt, this is my greatest success this semester and the biggest boost I got from the genre-centered approach, because I have been trying for my five years as a composition instructor to communicate to my students that there is no person in the 21st century who does not have to write on the job, and who is not more successful when they can do so with a clear sense of message and proof.  I was finally able to achieve this pedagogical goal by deputizing my students to go out on their own and seek out the genres they would need in their own lives.

Now my failings. To be fair to myself, I’ll note that most of them were curricular snafus borne from this being my first time teaching this version of the course. I note them here mostly for my future self, for when I teach this class again.

First of all, and it’s a biggie, I need to teach visual and multimodal rhetoric more explicitly, more smartly, and with better readings. I gestured at it in class but in my putting off the reading assignments to find something good to assign, I ended up forgetting to assign a reading and that let to my students giving really boring, ugly powerpoints.

Second: if I assign presentations again, no powerpoints allowed.

Third: if I require students to bring in a 3D object again, we need to have some make art time in class together. A lot of students brought in, like, a handout or a cookie. No shade to cookies, but, ya know.

Four: always build in drafting. I didn’t for the first unit blog post, and there wasn’t much time for student discussion after presentations, and that was bad. More feedback from the class always. Also, this reminds me that I really want to do full-class workshops in the future and center student writing as course texts more. The challenge for me here is that it is always so hard to cut down the assigned readings to make space for this. But I just have to do it.

FIve: I had students tweet and take images of each other in media groups so they could respect each other’s privacy wishes about sharing content on the web, but then other students could also share as well. I should have just had everyone live tweet everyone and have each student start their presentation with a statement of how they wanted their content shared or not and their privacy protected.

Six: I had a students make a Storify but I didn’t have them comment on each other’s Storifys using the little built-in comment thing. So I should do that!

Ok enough with those quibbles. I want to close by brainstorming about next semester, when I teach 205, the required critical research course for second-semester sophomores.

The version I taught last spring and summer moves through three units: an opening critical reading unit, where I give the students a bunch of articles about hiphop, discourse, literacy and education; a research unit, where they identify a research question and pursue it independently; and a paper-writing unit, where they write the paper. Also usually I make them reflect at the end, because I ❤ reflective writing.

Mostly I need an excuse to teach this article, a lawyer’s inquiry into the traffic stop scene in “99 Problems.”

I wonder what would happen if I made them research method, genres, and research questions in their fields, design a project for that field, and then execute it? I like that idea. I also like the idea of them keeping a blog all semester and I ALSO like the idea of having a class blog where one student is responsible for writing a course recap every week and then we workshop it in class the next week. What do y’all think of that? TB, out.

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