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One year after Bernstein’s visit to Australia, the country witnessed a turn in events in terms approach to teaching English as a second language. During this period, the educational set up was witnessing a transition from traditional to progressive pedagogy. Envisaging the probable consequences of the new approach, Bernstein then warned that students would be locked in the present pushing other aspects of language expression into oblivion. As a result, he advised teachers and researchers to not to dwell greatly on language as an abstract phenomenon, but learn to teach language students means of concept creation from their experiences and teach them how they can create a functional thought representation that is necessary in manipulating the world (Bernstein 1979; 300). This was the beginning of genre based literacy pedagogy. Since then, a plethora of academic research can be identified, with their focal point concentrated around the importance of embracing this type of literacy pedagogy as opposed to traditional or progressive pedagogy. This paper seeks to highlight the advantages of a pedagogical approach that is centered on genre concept.
What is genre based pedagogy and how does it differ from other pedagogical approaches? Hyland (2007) describes genre based pedagogy in teaching writing as a deliberate teaching approach that arms students with pertinent knowledge which will enable them to access key genres that are necessary for success in schooling, communal interactions and workplace. In simple terms, genre based pedagogy allows teachers of writing to teach their writing students approaches that will enable them to use language and understand language according to the context in question. A well achieved genre based pedagogy creates students who are capable of creating meaning of a given text not just through the words in the text but also other non linguistic cues.
Understanding genre as a concept is a prerequisite in trying to explain the pedagogical approach that is centered on it. According to Hyland (2002), the type of writing that places emphasis on genre is one that understands and has ability to use and interpret language in their given contexts. It is an approach that tries to analyze how individuals are able to comprehend a given communicative situation and how they are able to drive home a point within a given context. It also seeks to analyze how the phenomenon has been changing with time. Placing emphasis on the concept of genre when teaching adults to write is very important because it allows the policy makers in the field of pedagogy to come up with appropriate strategies that would enable their students to understand how they can create a meaning or interpret one within different communicative situations or contexts. Precisely, it is an approach to a creative meaning making students. The paper will hence elucidate on the issue of concept and how it applies to learning how to write.
The Concept of Genre
Hyland (2007) defines genre as, “…abstract, socially recognized ways of using language” (p.149). The basic concept in genre comprehension is the fact that members of a community experience less difficulty when reading texts that they read often. Their repeated experience on dealing with similar texts makes them be able to draw the meaning, comprehend it and also write a similar text easily. Hyland attributes this to the fact that whenever a reader gets to read a given text, he has certain expectations that are usually developed from experiences he has come across after reading similar texts. Through anticipation, the reader stands greater chances of understanding the purpose of the writer. On the other hand, the writer can easily drive the point home if he learns to comprehend the expectations of readers through reading of similar articles.
Importance of genre
One of the most important roles of understanding genre in learning to write is its ability to liberate a student from grammatical constraints that would incapacitate them from construction of meaning in given social contexts. In the normal cognitive pedagogies, students are given linguistic resources which act as tools to effective communication. However, Hyland (2006) argues that this is not the best approach to writing. Such approaches arm the students with exemplary skills that promote their fluency but do not teach them to create meaning. This is especially true given that meaning does only depend on syntactic structures, lexical composition and other grammatical elements. The true construction of meaning goes beyond this. In addition to the grammatical elements, meaning is carried through the specific use of languages in a specific context. By understanding genre, students will have the capacity to comprehend the discourse structures and be able to use its their rich expressive potential to construct meaning that will not just be construed but construed easily (Schleppergrell 2004).
Genre concept offers a pedagogic approach that has characteristics that no other pedagogic approach has. While other approaches may boast of one or a couple of these characteristics, genre based approach encompasses all of them within its arms. These characteristics include explicitness. In genre based pedagogy, what is to be learnt is clear. This facilitates acquisition of the same by the students. Genre based pedagogy is systematic. It allows for a clear framework that enables teachers and students to concentrate on the interaction between language and contexts. Genre allows for needs-based approach to objectives development. While other pedagogic approaches do not focus on the needs of students, genre based approach gives teachers of writing room to develop course objectives that reflect the needs of the students. Through genre centered approach, teachers have the capacity to see and nurture students’ creativity and learning. This means that genre based approaches are supportive. Genre based pedagogy is also empowering because it allows students to acquire skills that could assist them to identify variations in patterns of value. Genre based pedagogy arms students with enough resources to critic and challenge the conventional writing specifications. Finally, through genre based approach, teachers are given power to become aware of the text. This gives them confidence when offering advice to writing students (Hyon 1996).
Writing is considered a social activity. By putting this in consideration, it becomes clear that cognitive pedagogical approaches fail to address this quality of writing. Most of these approaches teach grammar as a discrete component that can stand on its own. According to Hyland (2007), every writing venture presides a specific purpose. The writer has in mind what he exactly wants to pass across. In addition, the purpose of the writing is aimed for a given audience. That is, a writer usually has a specific audience in mind before engaging in the task. Finally, the writer understands the context of his message. This means that he knows what context the message will be received by his intended audience. All these dynamics give writing a quality that makes it a social activity rather than a mere use of words to express a topic. With the concept of genre, grammar assumes a different approach. It ceases to be a discrete component and becomes intertwined within the text to come up with clear grammatical patterns that reflect the context in question. By understanding the grammatical patterns in texts, Hyland argues that this assists students learning to write to comprehend how lexical and grammatical combinations can be used to construct meanings. Furthermore, understanding of genre helps students understand the way language operates within texts and what roles they play in different texts with different contexts (Kalantzis & Cope 1993).
Placing emphasis on genre when teaching writing students also gives room fo collaborative learning which is the best approach to learning. Hyland (2004) argues that through the concept of genre, collaborative learning which involves teacher supportive learning and peer interaction becomes evident. In this context, there are two facets or notions of learning involved in collaborative learning. First, there is the shared consciousness which dictates that by working as a group, a student’s comprehension ability is increased as compared to learning individually. Second, borrowed consciousness involves the assertion that when students work together, those slow at understanding concepts borrow some understanding from the knowledgeable members of the group and this facilitates their understanding of ideas and concepts. Hyland hence argues that through these two notions, learners are able to move from the level of performance that they are at the point to another level that they can perfectly do without needing support from others. This means that with genre as a concept of pedagogy, students are able to learn from their friends and teachers by working in groups. Through these interactions, the level of performance is raised from what it is at that point to another level that reflects their true potential. The gap between these two levels is referred to as the zone of proximal development (Martin 1999; Freebody & Luke 1999).
Vygotsy (1978) as quoted by Hyland (2004) clearly points out the role of genre in assisting learners in moving up the zone of proximal development. In his analysis, he argues that substantial improvement in the effort up the ladder of performance cannot be achieved solely through input. He argues that social interactions which offers a platform for mutual learning and assistance from one student to the other plays the role of primacy in this progress.
With such a theoretical foundation, it becomes clear that genre based pedagogy is tool that can be used to improve on the skill of students learning to write. As mentioned earlier, writing is a social activity. This means that for a successful venture in writing, one must understand the dynamism involved in the production of a written piece. For instance, one must learn to analyze the expectations of the target audience before making up his mind on how to construct his meaning. Genre based pedagogy therefore offers the best platform upon which a teacher can assist his students to improve on the skills of audience analysis. As argued by Hyland (2004), learning in a collaborative way assists students who have difficulties to learn through support of others. This assists them to climb higher in the zone of proximal development. In addition, students learning to write will have a chance of interacting with others hence increasing their span of comprehension given the diversity of meaning construing in the group that contains students with a large diversity of cultural background (Martin 2007).
Communicative language teaching (CLT) was a well researched approach to teaching language. Hyland (2004) points out that thios type of teaching that was started in the seventies was basically founded on two crucial knowledges; “the knowledge of language and the knowledge of when to use it appropriately” (p. 9). In this approach to pedagogy, the main topic of concern was understanding how language could be used to construct meanings from different contexts. Considering that research pointed out that this was a proven way of teaching language, it becomes clear that the concept of genre is extremely important in teaching writing students. This is as a result of the continuation of the researched idea that language plays different roles in different contexts and that certain grammatical patterns are appropriate in certain contexts. Learning of genre, hence, gives an appropriate approach not just to construing meaning but also constructing one.
In the perception that language is a tool that strengthens social relationships, it becomes clear that writing is a community resource that facilitates bonding. Given this conception, it becomes necessary to argue that language is therefore not a tool for an individual’s self expression, but a resource that the society looks upon in ensuring survival. Proper understanding of writing calls upon a writer to understand that texts are a large body of interdependent works. What one writes will most likely be interpreted by readers on the basis of other works that are related to it. Also, the writer has to understand the expectations of the readers in order to construct meaning. As a result, context, in a given piece of work is a construct of both the author and consumer of his work who, together construct it through their discourse. In most cases, the writer operates under the influence of his social activities, the interaction between him and his readers and what develops in the course of their continued interactions. The involvement of genre in teaching writing is therefore integral because it is through genre based pedagogical approaches that language ceases to be taught as a discrete element. Genre based approaches advocate for comprehension of writing not as a venture of self expression but a two way venture that involves both the writer and the reader. The concept of genre hence becomes important in ensuring success in writing (Brown & Hood 1989}.
Given the picture of this literature review, it is clear that writing is not a form of self expression where a writer relies upon his technical abilities to express his personal ideas. Writing does not entail learning grammar and vocabulary as discrete elements of communication. As pointed out by Hyland (2000), construction and understanding of meaning in a given work or text is a two way venture that is developed not just by the writer but also by the reader. While the writer needs to express his personal ideas, it is necessary that he understands the purpose of his writing, his expected audience and the context upon which the text will be consumed. In addition, he has to understand the expectations of his readers who will always read his text in elation to other existing works similar to his. Furthermore, language and therefore writing is a community resource that facilitates the relationships of the people. This means that it is not an individual resource but communal.
All the given arguments point out to one conclusion; the concept of genre is the spearhead for any successful writing lesson. By understanding genre, a student learning to write will be given a platform from which he will develop his grammatical and vocabulary having a well defined target. His technical abilities will not be developed anyhow without a specific objective like experienced in other pedagogic approaches, but it will be developed specifically for a given context. The concept of genre hence develops the conception of language as a communal tool rather than an individual venture. Consequently, success in writing becomes guaranteed as writers learn to use language in relation to the identified expectation of the readers. The interdependence between the reader and the writer hence becomes the source of success.
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While the concept of genre seems important in learning to write, it has also been found flawed. The opponents of genre approach to pedagogy argue that this approach stifles creativity. in this approach, students tend to focus on what they are supposed to do in such a way that they lose their creative string. The approach tends to be prescriptive allowing students no room for self expression and creativity. However, this does not mean that genre concept should be discarded as a failed concept. Instead, a way should be identified on how students could be taught to work within the two way model of meaning construction. This will give them pertinent skills of identifying the needs of the readers. Then, hey should be left to work from here. By doing this, they will have the chance to promote creativity.
List of References
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Hyland, K. 2004, Genre and second language writers, University of Michigan Press, Michigan.
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Martin J R. 2007, “Metadiscourse: designing interaction in genre-based literacy programs.” In Whittaker, R., M. O’Donnell and A. McCabe (eds) Language and Literacy: functional Approaches, Continuum, London.
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