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Using Multigenre Essays in the Basic Writing Classroom

Cristin Bobee

How can Multigenre projects be used in a basic writing class to help students make connections between personal/academic writing?

Students are placed into basic writing classes for a variety of reasons. Some such reasons are that they have been taught there is one accepted way to write (Del Principe, Elbow); they don’t know the language of academia (Bartholomae); or maybe they are confused about what writing should be or what it is about (Shaugnessy 10). Whatever the reason they are placed into a basic writing class, they are placed there and teachers need to guide these students to think critically; use problem solving techniques; discover ideas for themselves; use their own voice; and make decisions about their writing that comes from discovery; and see that writing is a process. (Elbow, Del Principe, Shaugnessy, Gray-Rosendale, Carter, Bizzell, Davis and Shadle). One way to do this is through Multigenre writing projects.
Multigenre projects:
*Allow for discovery of how students can create writing in a new and different way
*Encourage students to think for themselves
*Make decisions about what to write and how to write based on the topic
*Inquiry method is used
*They are able to choose the way they see the project looking
As the above ideas indicate, basic writers are labeled basic because they may not think of themselves as writers; they sometimes see writing as something other people do, and they feel a disconnect from who they are and what they write. In order to get basic writing students to think about themselves as writers they need to begin by looking at how they feel about writing and why. Angela Carter points out that actual writing is not often included in the curriculum of basic writing classes. Carter and others state that in basic writing classes students should write in a variety of ways and forms.
*With the following activities students will begin to look at what they write and why. These activities will begin to help you in getting your basic writing students thinking about the purpose of writing. The interview activity and the two exploration essays are ways to get students thinking about writing and its various forms and focus on the writer and their writing. The Writers Inventory Sheet is a way to get your students thinking about what interests them and to show that you value their ideas. Also included is a sample proposal that you can show students so they can see how to begin the process.

Interview Questions: Exploring the Writing Process

Explorations 1 and 2

Writers Inventory Sheet

MGR Proposal Example

Because Multigenre/Multiwriting insists that students look at content, as well as form, it is a great way to get students who are placed in a basic writing class to write. They are shown that the academic community values all types of writing, and they are given a chance to excel in the writing process because in Multigenre writing emphasis is placed on their ideas (what is important to them) instead of indicating that they have to write to a form. Patricia Bizzell points out that “to prepare students now for success in school, (and after) it may no longer be necessary to inculcate traditional academic discourse. Rather experimenting with discourse forms that mix the academic and non-academic” (“Basic Writing and the issue of Correctness” 5).
Multigenre writing is very much like the compliance/resistance model that Peter Elbow discusses in his essay “Illiteracy at Oxford and Harvard.” Elbows point is that while students want to comply with the writing, part they often resist the conventional part of writing; Multigenre writing “allows, permits, supports” students to conform and resist at the same time. The conforming comes in the form of “doing an assignment” and the resistance comes from the idea of creating the project the way the student feels it should be formed. When students feel they have nothing new to say it is restrictive, but the Multigenre project frees this restriction. If a student is moved by a piece of information or event that inspires them to write a song, poem, or letter about the topic the Multigenre project gives them that freedom of choice.
*In order for students to write in many genres they need to be exposed to a variety of genres. The following is a list (not a complete list by any means) of genres that you will hand out to students and a checklist you can use so your students can see what genres they have experimented with.

Genre List

Working Portfolio Checklist

*Part of the process of understanding what Multigenre writing is to explore the writings of those who have created these types of pieces by reading books that are in the Multigenre/Multiwriting format. By immersing students in these books they will begin to understand how to create their projects. The following is a list (partial at best) of some of the various books that you can use in a class where you write these types of projects. The more you have students read these kinds of books the more ideas they will come up with and be able to see how transformative writing can be.

Multigenre and Mulitvoice Books List

*Have students do free-writes in the genres you want them to look at specifically and have them write poetry. Poetry can be one of the biggest risks to write for many people. Regarding poetry Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones says, “Poems are taught as though the poet has put a secret key in his words and it is the reader’s job to find it. Poems are not mystery novels” (33). What she recommends is to demystify poetry is to have students write poems, for them and about them.

Free Write Prompts

Poetry Workshop Free Writing Prompts

One of the hardest things in the writing process for students to “learn” or feel comfortable with is the revision process. Often when teachers have students do revision exercises students feel that there is something wrong with their writing. As Natalie Goldberg writes about the revision process “(n)aturally, there should be a place for editing and revision, but when we hear the word editor, we think, ‘Okay. I let the creator in me go wild, but now I’m going to get back to the proper, conventional, rational state of mind and finally get things in order.’ DON’T do that . . . . Instead, when you go over your work, become a Samurai, a great warrior with the courage to cut out anything that is not present . . . see revision as “envisioning again” (174–175). We want students to see that revision is a natural part of the writing process so the activities should reflect this idea.
*The following activities are a good place to begin with basic writers because they indicate to students that they can make the choices about what to revise and what they feel works for them.

Re-looking at Short stories and essays

Working with words and sentences

Extending-Repentend-Repetition examples

*Included are some peer feedback ideas. This is another part of the writing process and students need to see that their peers are able to provide constructive feedback regarding their writing. They are given the opportunity to give their opinion, which indicates to the basic writer that their opinions have merit.

Peer Feedback Ideas

*You will want to use portfolios in Multigenre projects so students can the process and look at their writing as a whole. Here are two rubrics you can use to assess students writing and can hand out to students so they can self assess.

Showcase portfolio rubric

As educators of basic writers (or any writers for that matter) the way that writing is taught should not shape the writer, but the writer should shape how they view writing as well as how the writing should take shape (Gray-Rosendale). This is what Multigenre writing helps basic writers achieve—a model that they create for themselves that is not dictated to them by others.
Multigenre writing is for all students, but especially for those who:
*Have struggled with their writing
*Have always thought that their writing had nothing to do with them
*Have felt that being creative was for some one else
*Have needed to be given the chance to write without being told what to write about and what it should look like

---It is the thrill of discovery, not the agony of defeat

Ultimately it is about the enjoyment of writing

Key words for searching: teaching writing, multigenre writing, better writing, poetry, lesson plans, struggling writers, college writing, basic writers, first year writing, research, writing imporement, multiwriting, enjoying writing, creative writing

Works Consulted

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” Writing on the Margins. Boston:

Bedford/St. Martins 2005: 61–85.

--- “The Tidy House.” Writing on the Margins. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins 2005: 312–326.

Bizzell, Patricia. “Basic Writing and the Issue of Correctness or, What to do with

‘Mixed’ Forms of Academic Discoures.” Journal of Basic Writing 19 (2000): 4–12.

---“Hybrid Academic Discourses: What, Why, How.” Compostion Studies

27 (1999): 7–21.

Carter, Shannon. “Redefining Literacy as a Social Practice.”

Journal of Basic Writing 25 (2006): 94–124.

Davis, Robert and Mark Shadle. “ ‘Building a Mystery’: Alternative Research Writing and the

Academic Act of Seeking.” College Compostion and Communication 51 (2000): 417–446.

--- Teaching Multiwriting: Researcing and Composing with Multiple Genres,

Media, Disciplines, and Cultures. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,

Del Principe, Ann. “Paradigm Clashes in Basic Writing.” Journal of Basic Writing

23 (2004) 64–81.

Elbow, Peter. “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic: A conflict in Goals.”

College Compostion and Communication 46 (1995): 72–83.

--- “Illiteracy at Oxford and at Harvard.” Everyone Can Write. New York: Oxford

University Press, 2000.

Gray-Rosendale, Laura. “Back to the Future.” Journal of Basic Writing 25

(2006): 5–26.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2005.

Harrington, Susanmarie. “The Representation of Basic Writers in Basic Writing Scholarships.”

Journal of Basic Writing 18 (2006): 91–107

Hebb, Judith. “Mixed Forms of Academic Discourse: a Continuum of Language

Possibility.” Journal of Basic Writing 21 (2002): 21–36.

Romano, Tom. Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers.

Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2000.

Shaughnessy, Mina. Introduction, Expecttions. Errors and Expectations: A

Guide For the Teacher. New York, Oxford University Press 1977: 1–13, 275–294.
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