April 25, 2021
This semester has given me more opportunities to apply theory to Writing Centre practice. One of the major discoveries I have made is in the area of genre. This semester I took the class “Teaching Reading and Writing,” and it was exciting to see what I learned in the class show up repeatedly in my writing centre appointments. One major focus of the class was genre awareness and using the genre approach to teach reading and writing. In the class, we learned that teaching genre must begin with the recognition that genre is a cultural phenomenon. Different cultures have different structures and features that are associated with different genres. Hyland (2019) explains, “What is seen as logical, engaging, relevant or well organised in writing, what counts as proof, conciseness and evidence, can all differ across cultures” (p.41).
This poses an extra barrier to international students. In addition to facing the same challenges that all students face when learning how to write at a university-level and the grammatical/vocabulary challenges students may face if English is not their first language, these students also have to figure out North American English genre structure and features which may be radically different to those found in their culture. Hyland (2019) writes that it is important for teachers to recognize the cultural differences in genre and textual organization and to teach students how to consider their audience’s expectations when they read the text. These principles can also be applied by writing tutors; it is important to be aware of these different genres, to validate students’ own cultural expectations, and to guide them to the expectations of North American professors.
To illustrate, I will share an example of one session I had this semester. The student’s paper was full of ideas. Each paragraph could have been divided into several paragraphs and many of the ideas continually circled back to the same main points. To me, it seemed like a jumble of ideas with no clear focus. However, in the final paragraphs, I saw that the student again circled back to those ideas that had been introduced and explained their connections. With the idea of genre awareness fresh in my mind, I explained the structure and organization that was expected in the paper. However, I framed the genre of the paper as an expectation in North American academia. As I explained, I saw lightbulbs going off in the student’s mind. He said, “I never understood why professors have been telling me that my organization is confusing. This is how I learned to write an essay in my home country.” The student could not see why the structure of his argument was confusing because he was following the patterns that are expected in his home country. By approaching the situation as a cultural difference rather than a right vs. wrong way to structure his paper or even a confusing vs. clear way to structure his paper, the student was able to understand his own writing and approach his writing from the perspective of a reader from a different culture. This awareness allows him to be more successful in his university studies here in North America.
Hyland, K. (2019). Second Language Writing (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press.