Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Formulaic writing as the "Gateway Drug" to Genre Theory

I am now thoroughly convinced that Genre Theory in the context of the Anthropology of Communication provides a framework by means of which to liberate student voices and transform our teaching – not just our teaching of core literacy, but of the sciences, the arts, and of all the skills needed for civic and working life.
Periodic Table of Story Elements by Barbara Kloss
Periodic Table of Story Elements by Barbara Kloss

This line of thinking was first sparked for me by what I now think of as the Seminal Post to #CLMOOC14 : "A Burr in Your Sock" by Kim Douillard. I experienced a level of collaboration, interchange (Ah Ha! Another opportunity for coining a MULTI Family word [and to play with nested brackets, of course] multichange now joins multinamics, multilogue, and one other multi which I've forgotten {another opportunity for a bracket |properly called squiggly brackets, according to one English Usage resource I consulted|} since I can return to this chain and add it when I remember!) multi-change (doesn't read right without the dash [I think]), growth, and expansion of a level I've never had in my life (except perhaps my initial talks with friends in college who introduced me to jazz, and surrounding the college course which introduced me to art) in terms of transforming my outlook profoundly.

That thread lead to the creation of my "Step In It!®" Writing satirical poster, my most stretchy Make in both series of the CLMOOC's, and even the whole year in between where I continued to participate often. There was something immensely satisfying in utilizing a genre new to me in what seemed to me like an effective and amusing manner. That was just the first step. Some weeks ago I realized that I was actually conducting a self-experiment with formulaic writing, since I purchased and bgan using Scrivener, a writing helper which, among other things, provides templates of structured steps and pieces for many genre of both fiction and non-fiction writing. I chose a template for "Thesis or Research Proposal" to begin drafting my thoughts on the six or seven figure research project around using string games to cultivate executive function which I promised myself should be well underway by 2024. That does give me ten years, but it is an ambitious goal, so I felt like I needed a well-formed brief. Then when a Writing Project colleague emailed me to ask if I would help her get started with Scrivener to write her novel during NaNoWriMo, I started another project with Scrivener around a dance and writing performance piece I'm planning to organize in collaboration with a movement teacher whose Web site I used to host, which gave me the opportunity to take her classes in trade for web work. So I came up with a collaboration as a way to get to work with her without having to pay for classes. Of course, it will probably be a lot more work and trouble to write a grant and organize a troupe to perform, instead of just paying for classes, but, as my initial sentence attests, I have grandiose dreams. And I got to use another Scrivener Template, the Persuasive Speech!

So here's my initial take on formulaic writing based on a commercial product so far: I really enjoyed using the templates, responding to the prompts and questions. It helped me a lot to organize my thoughts, prompted new thoughts,  and generated some language. The software didn't work at all as I had hoped--having labored through several steps of a template, I thought I could just take all those pieces and do a simple export which would combine them all into a single file I could edit elsewhere. None of the things I tried which sounded like they would do that worked. Of course, I never consulted the manual, looked in the Help Menu, or searched Google for a support forum. I don't  have close deadlines, so I'm not ready to go further...yet, but I probably will.

Will there be much trace of a Scrivener template when I finally do do something with either of the projects I started using their software? Probably not. Did using the software help me? Certainly. What this experiment has to do with my initial thought in beginning this essay is something I'm groping to say about the many ways folks monetize writing and education. The value I got from using Scrivener probably doesn't even approach what I would get by taking my drafts of the proposals I intend to write and posting them to the iAnthology Ning, or sharing them with a few friends and asking them for feedback. I will do those things as well, and of course share what I'm doing with the CLMOOC, but I think the original burr in the sock has something to do with the money part of this.

What I mean by formulaic writing as a "Gateway Drug" to Genre Theory is that discussing the way commercial formulae shape students' writing, treating these offerings as another Genre to teach, alongside and within a media literate panoptic (is multioptic even better?) understanding of the Anthropology of Communication, should give them some tools with which to deconstruct and reassemble a Five Paragraph Essay on the same critical terms as a sonnet or a hip-hop video.

The Four Questions of Genre Theory:

  • What's the genre (Form, Structure, Framework, Constraints, etc)?
  • How do we decode the contents? 
  • Who is the intended audience? and 
  • What's the stated or implied purpose of the Communicator in creating this artifact?

map quite nicely onto Talcott Parsons' Four Box diagram of social systems. But that's another post, and this one is already way too long...