Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.
Genre-Booklets To Aid Children & Teachers In Writing Across The Curriculum
This article is about how, this year, we introduced little ‘genre-booklets’ to our year 5 classroom and how they have changed our writing pedagogy in profound ways.
- An example of one of these Genre-Booklets can be seen at the bottom of this page.
- If you’d like to see view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What Impact Have We Seen?
So far we have introduced just the following booklets:
- Information Text,
- Persuasive Letter,
- Explaining The Past: Accounting For History,
- Free-Verse Poetry.
We place these in plastic hanging-baskets on our literacy wall. When children have completed their class-writing, they are welcome to come and take a booklet from the display and write. Children know they have to follow the writing process – as set out here and use the booklet to support them.
We have also had a number of booklets go home – with children asking for addition genres which they feel they need to complete tasks outside of school. For example, a child requested to have the Biography Booklet to write his own footballing history so far. Other children have asked for the Memoir Booklet – so that they can practice it before they are formally taught it after Christmas. Finally, a number of boys have asked for the Match Report Booklet – so as they can formally recount the football matches they attend each weekend.
These Are Our Main Reflections:
- Children no longer seem to require so much support from us. They write more freely and happily.
- Children are taking greater care when planning a piece of writing.
- Children’s writing is purposeful and always demonstrates features of the genre being written.
- Their writing is genuinely informative or entertaining and is often cohesively produced.
- Children aren’t so tentative to begin writing.
- Children don’t want writing sessions to come to an end – it’s hard to get children to pack away.
- Children’s motivation to write has increased dramatically.
- Children’s motivation to research and undertake independent study in the foundation subjects has increased dramatically.
- Children are reading more critically.
- Children are taking writing in the foundations subjects more seriously.
- A sharp increase in children taking writing home.
- A sharp increase in children purchasing writing-notebooks and writing at home.
- Children’s writing outcomes have so far been impressive across ability ranges.
- Children are beginning to talk like real writers.
So, What Is Genre And How Did These Booklets Come About?
Genre is about ‘how we use language to live’ and it looks to share the ways in which language can be used functionally to achieve the things we want to achieve through our writing. Our culture has many systems of genres which we enact when we want to achieve something specific. A ‘genre is a staged goal-oriented social process.’ (Martin, 2009, p.13):
- Staged: You usually have to move through more than one phase to achieve your writing goal.
- Goal-orientated: There is something that the writing can achieve.
- Social: Because every genre has an audience in mind.
‘Genre-based approaches to teaching writing have been widely adopted and have achieved spectacular improvements in student outcomes, from twice to more than four times expected rates of learning’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1) (see also, Culican, 2005, Rose & Acevedo, 2006 & Rose, 2008).
Why Teach Genre?
Teaching genre allows children to understand that:
- Writing is a social activity.
- Learning to write is a social activity.
- Writing fulfils our needs.
- There are certain outcomes and expectations that come with certain genres of writing.
- Learning to write involves learning to use language for your own purposes (Hyland, 2007, pp.152-153).
What Actually Are The Genre Booklets?
Genre-Booklets, and the inevitable genre-study that comes along with them, are based on the model of language in context known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), as produced by the linguistic Michael Halliday (2004). Halliday sees language as a meaning-making system. The distinctive features of this language system are that it focuses on the following:
- Grammar as a meaning making resources (as opposed to formal grammar rules)
- Texts are produced as a result of social context and semantic choices (Martin, 2009, p.11)
Halliday used this concept of grammar having a functional impact on texts as a way of analysing texts students were either expected to write or wanted to write. Martin went beyond this and started to teach children the meaning behind certain texts. Our genre-booklets have been able to make this information explicitly available to teachers but most importantly for children. The booklets are about sharing with children the unconscious and hidden rules which govern the types of writing we engage in every day. The booklets cover genres which are learned and taught across the curriculum but also provide children with the tools to also write in their own favourite ‘home’ genres. The social goals of this variety of genres are made available for children to peruse, enjoy, refine and maybe even change and develop for their own unique purposes.
How Were The Booklets Made?
The SFL model of language suggests that genres are made up of three interrelated meanings or ‘metafunctions,’ which affect the type of language we use in our writing, these are: the ideational, interpersonal and textual. This language, which aids our writing, is shared with both children and teachers in our genre-booklets.
- Ideational is interested in expressing a reality or topic (whatever it may be).
- Interpersonal is about negotiating this topic with others.
- Textual is about how to best manage and present this information.
How this language impacts a text is through what Halliday terms ‘register’. These are called: field, tenor and mode and relate closely to the above metafunctions. Each genre has its own register which encompasses the field, tenor and mode. These can be seen and understood in every one of our genre-booklets in simple terms.
- Field is about sharing the type of activity children will be engaging in within their chosen genre. The ‘what is going on’.
- Tenor is about sharing, with children, their role as the writer and their possible obligations to their readership.
- Mode is about how best to share their information in terms of structure and organisation.
Children ‘are generally more conscious of the meanings associated with register and genre, once you point them out, [more so than] grammatical meanings’ (Martin, 2010, p.24). We take a top-down perspective on writing, starting with the social functions of texts. So before any of the specifics involving register are discussed with children, the purpose of the genre is communicated and discussed. This helps them better understand the reason for such a type of writing and its potential impacts. Through ‘boxing-up’, a genre-process made available to children by Corbett & Strong (2011), children can see the stages of a specific genre. These are made available to the children in all our genre-booklets. The idea is that children understand that they cannot achieve the purpose of their text ‘all at once’ (Martin, 2009, p.12) but have to move through stages and by the end the process, the text will be more or less be where they want it to be.
Here is a summary of how the booklets are organised:
- Genre – The purpose of the goal-orientated writing.
- Field – Involves people doing things with their lives and sharing it.
- Tenor – How to interact with the people you are sharing the writing with.
- Mode – Making use of ways to channel your writing. (Martin, 2010, p.28)
- At least one exemplar text of the register features in action
- A ‘Boxing-Up’ planning sheet, showing the stages the genre goes through.
We have created these booklets to help children negotiate genres that are ‘immensely complex and involve [potentially] thousands of options in multiple systems’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1). Our genre-booklets allow teachers and children to talk ‘holistically about the social purposes of [different] texts and the ways in which different [texts can be used and even manipulated] to achieve their goals’ (Martin, 2009, p.12). We share with them the ‘semantic patterns which can be found in texts’ of a certain genre (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2)
Genre-booklets and Genre-Study itself prepare children for: ‘learning across the curriculum’, the writing they will be expected to do in specialised subjects in secondary school and perhaps most critically the ‘various community genres they [will] encounter’ in their lives (Martin, 2009, p.11).
We believe that our genre-booklets provided teachers with knowledge about genres that is ‘relatively easy to bring to consciousness’ and does not ‘demand a costly induction’ (Martin, 2009, p.12).
Here Is A List Of Our Current Genre-Booklets:
- Narrative writing
- How to write a memoir (recount)
- How to write a match report
- How to write a short-story
- How to write a vivid setting
- How to write an interesting character
- How to write a memorable and vivid story (advanced)
- How to write a newspaper article
- How to write advocacy journalism
- How to write a memoir (recount)
- Non-fiction writing
- How to write an information text
- How to write a book review
- How to write instructions
- How to write rules
- How to write an explanation
- How to write a biography
- Letter to the editor: responding to a newspaper article.
- How to write a letter of compliant
- How to write persuasively
- How to write a persuasive letter
- How to write a persuasive leaflet and advert
- How to write a discussion text
- How to write a free-verse poem
Book review has a particular important role in bridging reading comprehension to writing because the purpose of a book-review is to ‘interpret the message of a literary work and respond to its cultural values’ (Coffin, 2006, p.7). This develops children’s skills in reading for meaning.
How To Use The Genre Booklets
‘Traditional approaches assume that language must be taught as it is described in school grammars, as a set of decontextualized systems’ but the crucial skills that children actually need are to be able to recognise language patterns ‘at each level as they read real texts’, to discuss its function in relation to the genre’s goals, and to then use these language patterns (or grammar) flexibly and legitimately in their own writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.4).
As a result, after exposing children to the genre and its register and engaged in discussion of it, you have reached the point in the children’s apprenticeship that they are likely to understand ‘the basic staging structure of [a] genre’ (Martin, 2009, p.14). At this stage, they can either look at the exemplar texts formally and see how the genre is successful as a result of the register features or formally identify any grammar or language patterns from their Functional Grammar Lessons (see here for more info) or you can allow the children go on and apply the genre for themselves, for legitimate and productive reasons.
In this way children can use our Genre-Booklets do to the following:
- Focus on developing their identification skills of both genre and grammar features.
- See how certain register features make the exemplar text successful
- Practice using the register features for themselves in a purposeful way.
To be used most successfully by children, these Genre-Booklets should be used as part of our writing approach we are calling Real-Word Literacy. For more details on this approach you can click here.
Reading Like A Writer: The Use Of Exemplars
According to Frank Smith, ‘writing requires an enormous fund of specialised knowledge that cannot possibly be acquired from lectures, drill or even from the exercise of writing itself.’ He goes on to say that ‘much more is required to become a competent and adaptable author of letters, reports, journals, poems or pieces of fiction’. ‘To learn how to write for newspapers you must read newspapers; to write poetry, read it’ (Smith, 1988, p.17-20)
We provide contextualised exemplar texts which make ‘the ground rules [of a genre] visible’. This makes clear to children ‘what the genre requires’ so that they can plan and organise their piece ‘under suitable headings’ (Coffin, 2006, p.13). Exemplars are part of our genre-booklets because we adopt a top-bottom approach to genre-study. We follow ‘the course of natural language learning, in which new language features are encountered in meaningful contexts’ these exemplars allow children, whether formally or informally, to learn from and discuss a high-quality contextualised example (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2). Frank Smith (1982, p.201) sums it up beautifully, when he states: ‘the environment in which a child will want to write is an environment of demonstrations, not just of ‘this is the way we do things’ but also ‘these are things that can be done’.
Our Genre-Booklets can also be used as part of giving children pupil-conferences. Teachers can use our booklets as a way to provide guiding questions that can extend children’s text while they are writing it. It’s our opinion that teachers play an important supportive and guiding role in interaction with children. If done intelligently, pupil-conferences can enable children to accomplish more as a result of interaction than they would have been able to on their own (Martin & Rose, p.5). For more information on how to conduct pupil-conferences to improve children’s writing outcomes, see here.
The concept of pupil-conferences is ‘at odds with traditional language teaching methods, in which teachers may demonstrate language features as they show them on a [whiteboard]. Students will often then perform exercises using these features, and teachers evaluate their performance. These methods provide relatively little scaffolding support, leaving a gap between the teacher demonstration and the child’s writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.7). Children are often left to bridge this gap on their own. With our Genre-Booklets however children have a scaffold constantly available to them and this can be further supplemented through the pupil-conferencing we have mentioned.
The use of genre-booklets has resulted in some changes to Martin’s (1999, p.131) Teaching & Learning Model.
A Genre-Booklet’s description of field, tenor and mode, its exemplars and using them in genre-study sessions are all an aid for Martin’s ‘deconstruction stage’. The reinvention of this model is in combing the joint construction and individual construction phases. Through process-writing, children can engage in pupil-conferencing about their writing in real time, whilst they are producing their text in the independent phase. During pupil-conferencing, the teachers becomes a scaffold; ‘informer, guide and negotiator. Producing carefully thought out questions and comments that guide the students into constructing an appropriate text’ Coffin, 2006, p.13).
The Genre-Booklets, with their ‘boxing up’ of the stages a genre goes through will also allow children to move between the joint construction and independent construction stage by themselves. They can refer back to the booklet whenever they feel they need to. This reorganisation makes literacy lessons more efficient, giving children more time to practice the craft of writing through process-writing. Process-writing allows children to ‘revise and re-write their texts according to consultations and advice’, edit their pieces and publish for a wider audience (Coffin, 2006, p.14). To read more on pupil-conferencing go here, for process-writing, go here.
How To Use Genre-Booklets In The Foundation Subjects
Because we believe that process-writing is the best means for children to explore writing and the subjects they care about, so it should be the case for children to use process-writing in the foundation subjects to share the things they have learnt or already know about in a multitude of different ways. But to allow children to write in a multitude of ways they need to be exposed to and understand the different genres which are commonly used to express our meaning in subjects like science, history amongst others. For example ‘observations and experiments play a major role in school science and this affects the kinds of writing children are expected to undertake’ (Coffin, 2006, p.2). In history children have to sequence past events and often account for the significance of these events too. ‘School subjects each have their own specialised language’ and we believe that ‘academic disciplines should be re-contextualised’ within school subjects with the help from subject specific genre-booklets (Coffin, 2006, p.2). This is because they are different to the genres written in everyday life. Teachers often complain that their student’s writing in the foundation subjects is not as good as their writing in English. This is because ‘students have not developed control of the kinds of text and linguistics structures that serve the specific purposes’ of the foundation subject areas (Coffin, 2006, p.4). We ourselves are early into this exploration but the potential seems boundless. At present we provide genre-booklets for the following:
- Scientific enquiry report
- How to explain a piece of science (identification of phenomena, factors of importance (implications, consequences)
- How to debate a scientific idea (thesis, arguments)(issue, arguments, conclusion)
- Recounting the past (public history)
- How to debate the past
- How to account for the past
- How to write a historical biography
- How to explain a geographical issue
- How to persuade and discuss a geographic issue
You will have noticed that ‘some of these genres are common to all subject areas’. ‘However it is important to be aware that despite the commonality of some of the texts, aspects of language will often be quite distinct’ (Coffin, 2006, p.9).
It’s our belief that these subject specific genre-booklets could not only ‘improve language work in [foundation subjects], where it is currently ‘given little status’ by children, but also improve children’s understanding of what people in the foundation subjects actually do and why they do it (Creese, 2005, p.188). This is because they get to understand the genres these people use and the reasons why they engage in them. ‘Texts [can] become transformed as teachers and children attempt to meet both sets of aims’, that of understanding the foundation subject and learning to write to meet its needs (Creese, 2005, p.188). Creese (2005, p.189) believes that ‘educational success will come as a result of students learning the subject curriculum and associated language skills and literacies simultaneously’. This is what our genre-booklets look to help achieve. Our Real Word Literacy approach along with the use of genre-booklets aims to ‘eliminate the artificial separation between language instruction and subject matter classes which exist’ in most foundation subject topics. Through Real-Word Literacy, teachers will no longer have to ‘carry the linguistic burden of [their] class’ (Creese, 2005, p.191). For more information on our Real Word Literacy approach, go here.
In terms of history, could it be that children are exposed to some recounts of the past by the teacher and they are then allowed to decide how they would like to interpret these recounts. Could it be possible that after this subject knowledge has been negotiated between the teacher and the class, the class could be free to choose a historical genre in which to stamp their own perspective on the recounts? Could they be allowed to choose whether they wish to account for or debate the evidence? Could these finished pieces find their way into the class book-stock for others to read and could this lead to further research and debate by the children? Would this not result in children not only learning the disciplines of being a historian but also improve their literacy at the same time? The freedom that is now allowed as a result of the revised National Curriculum (2013) would suggest so.
It is clear that, ‘if students are to make sense of, and survive, secondary school’ and discover what they would like to do as part of their working life, ‘they will need to learn how to access and use the specialised genres and language that construct the different curriculum areas’ (Coffin, 2006, p.11)
Why Genre-Booklets Were Made?
We believe ‘bottom-up teaching programs assume a theory of learning, that language is learnt by studying and remembering lower level components of the language system, before applying them in writing’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). Skills like ‘recognising, interpreting and using written language patterns from texts are less often taught explicitly in bottom-up teaching programs’ and so these skills often have to be acquired by luck by the most successful students who are already most experienced at reading and writing texts but for those who are less experienced, they are unlikely to learn and apply these skills (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). The traditional approach to literacy teaching simply follows other academic traditions, in which the content of the subject (especially grammar) is separated out and given to students in the form of exercises to practice. Children’s memory of these features of our language system are then tested.
Our approach, particularly towards grammar teaching, but also in terms of genre comprehension and writing, believes that these features are best learnt as they are repeatedly experienced in contextualised writing. Children are best served in doing this through learning about and engaging in process-writing. To read more about our approach to ‘Process Writing’ go here.
We believe that genre-study opens up the possibility for teachers to allow their children to write through the act of process-writing because genre-study addresses the main criticism of process writing, that without genre knowledge, children will write in a ‘very narrow range of writing’ (Martin, 2009, p.11). Process writing allows children to write every day. It also shows children that knowledge about language is not useless or harmful to their writing but they can use it to harness and share the things they want to say and they can be successful in doing so. This point needs to be emphasised, because genres are a model for language and social context it means children will naturally engage in certain types of grammar and language use. As a result, ‘it provides a natural context for learning [many of the word, sentence and tense level] structures and other organisational structures’ (Martin, 2009, p.18) insisted on by The National Curriculum (2013).
Additionally, since both the genre is stable and made explicit to children it allows them ‘considerable freedom in determining just how they are to realise’ their piece of writing (Martin, 2010, p.27). The register is distributed over a whole text and so there children only have a few local constraints to abide by. ‘This does not mean that register and genre can be ignored. They cannot’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). The children have to use ‘enough signals of register’ from the booklet to ensure their reader can see where they are coming from. The point we are making here is that our booklets are not a ‘mechanical formulae, which stand in the way of a child’s creativity or self-expression’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). It is true to say that ‘you can’t write if you don’t control the appropriate register’ [of a genre], unfortunately, control of these systems is something that educators too often take for granted’ (Martin, 2010, p.27).
Finally then, it allows children the freedom and support to ‘move from one genre to another without having to take too much on board’ or remember back to a previous year’s teaching (Martin, 2009, p.15). The booklets create a zone of proximal development to support teachers and scaffold children’s need to ‘develop their literacy repertoire’ (Martin, 2009, p.15).
The only reason process-writing fails in schools is because organisers have not ‘clearly articulated [a] model of the relations between’ genre, grammar and contexts (Martin & Rose, 2007, p4). Our Real-Word Literacy pedagogy does this.
To read about our Real Word Literacy pedagogy, go here.
If you’d like to see view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at email@example.com
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