Misconception: Students should write argumentative, expository, and narrative essays.
Your students should not write argumentative, expository, and narrative essays. Few would argue that students need to be able to effectively argue, explain, and narrate, but students graduating high school thinking there are only three types of writing used in society will lack understanding of the plethora of genres and their nuances that exist. It is therefore important that teachers view the ELA CCSS writing standards (argumentative, expository, and narrative) as modes in which exist dozens of genres. However, this is often not the case. Stressing the danger of viewing the standards as genres themselves, Katy Wood Raye in Study Driven comments:
“too often in schools, the concept of mode is grossly oversimplified. When students are taught to think about writing in terms of mode rather than genre, this teaching belies the complexity of how different modes of writing are used to compose a short story or feature article or personal essay. I believe, in fact, that they oversimplification of the concept of mode actually results in flawed curriculum” (58).
A journalist does not sit down and think to him or herself, “I’m going to write my argument now.” Instead, he or she would specify the genre, perhaps as an opinion editorial, and would be able to compose it with the characteristics, both subtle and major, that define the genre. Modes do not detail the types of writings that exist, and failing to do so can lead to a flawed curriculum, because it is possible for a student to graduate having only written three types of essays. While it is not feasible to cover every genre within a class, a department within a school or district can, through careful vertical alignment, expose students to writing in dozens of different genres. For example, I have been working on a committee of language arts teachers within my district over the past year to undertake such a task. Most recently we focused on narrative writing. Through coordinated planning between grade levels, students in our district will graduate having written not just one type of narrative, but having written memoirs, feature articles, vignettes, biographies, and short stories.
Newer teachers (or even veteran teachers) might find the task of planning units around some of these more specific genres daunting. As my vertical alignment committee has worked to build units engaging students in diverse genres within the argumentative, expository, and narrative modes, there have been a couple texts pivotal to the success of our work that might be valuable for other teachers making a shift to teaching genre, not mode. One is the aforementioned Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop by Katy Wood Rae. The other is Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Thinking Through Modeling and Mentor Texts. As one considers genres, not just modes, the types of writing students should be doing starts to exist across subject areas as well, not just in language arts. If you are a language arts teacher, what specific genres might your students enjoy writing? If you teach another subject, what are genres of writing significant in your content area that students should be writing?
Ray, Katie Wood. Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006. Print.
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.