Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why genre?

Today, I read the first chapter of Hyland's book Genre and Second Language Writing. It was very reader friendly and at the end of the chapter there was a summary section. The following quote comes from that section. 

"The main implications for writing teachers are that genre-based teaching:
  1. Allows teachers to identify the kinds of texts students will have to write in their target academic or occupational contexts and to organize their courses around these needs.
  2. Enables teachers and learners to see how texts are related to particular contexts.
  3. Helps teachers and students to see that texts are purposeful and patterned to serve writer and community purposes
  4. Provides teachers with a principled means of supporting the development of student writing.
  5. Shows how some texts are valued more than others within a community.
  6. Provides students with a means of understading, using, and critiquing these texts.
  7. Encourages teachers to integrate grammar, process, content, and function." (p. 22)

"The process and genre approaches to writing are often presented as polar extremes. Can you think of ways that they might be seen as complementing each other rather than as being incompatible?" (p. 23)

My answer to this discussion question is, 'Yes, an ecological approach to second language writing would provide a wider lens that would allow us see both the process and the product at the same time without a Gestalt shift as complementary factors rather than incompatible ones influencing writing. I think it is not the focus of study (process or product) that is not compatible but the philosophical underpinnings that inform these traditions. In other words, there is nothing inherently incompatible in process or product approaches. That's what I think anyway. I think an ecological approach would make it possible to find a synthesis since it rejects the dichotomies between what is cognitive and what is social (or material) and between the individual and the community, between nature and culture. But of course there is a tiny tiny little issue with an ecological approach to second language writing. Well, it doesn't exist ^_^ (YET, I would like to add). But wouldn't it be wonderful if it did?'

Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


  1. Some people do take an ecological approach to second language learning and thus indirectly to second language writing. Diane Larsen-Freeman, Leo van Lier, and Herdina & Jessner are a few. Two interesting studies on ESL/bilingual students are those of Villalva (2006) and Ferenz (2005). I particularly appreciate the work of Brent Davis, David Sumara, and Elaine Simmt who come from the field of education.

    Davis, B., & Simmt, E. (2003). Understanding learning systems: Mathematics education and complexity science. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 34, 137-167.

    Davis, B. & Sumara, D. (2006). Complexity and education: Inquiries into learning, teaching, and research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Ferenz, O. (2005). EFL writers' social networks; Impact on advanced academic literacy development. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4, 339-351.

    Villalva, K. E. (2006). Hidden literacies and inquiry approaches of bilingual high school writers. Written Communication, 23, 91-129.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment. You're right, there are some people working within an ecological framework.I'm familiar with the work of some scholars in applied linguistics and composition such as Leo van Lier, Diane Larsen-Freeman, and Clay Spinuzzi. Actually, I have written about some of their publications before. But I didn't know about the other scholars you mentioned. Thank you very much for sharing these sources. They look very interesting. I'll try to read them.
    When I said an ecological approach to second language writing doesn't exist, I was comparing it to process or genre approaches in SLW studies. I think compared to them it is hard to talk about an ecological approach to second language writing as a paradigm that brings together several researchers providing them with a clear research agenda. Wouldn't you agree?

  3. Yes, you're right in that it's not widespread like process or genre approaches. A few more resources that you might consider (and perhaps you're already aware of them) are:

    One issue of Applied Linguistics 27(4), 2006.
    One issue of The Modern Language Journal 92(2), 2008

    Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Leather, J. & van Dam, J. (Eds.). (2003). Ecology of language acquisition. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

  4. Thank you very much for your recommendations.