The Science of Teaching Writing

A blog on teaching, with an emphasis in teaching writing.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Purpose and Audience

A special thanks to Jason and Craig, because they taught this to me, and I taught it to my kids.

Like most teachers in the state of Colorado, I look at CSAP data to try to target areas where they need help--not so I can brag about CSAP scores, but they do test standards, and we have to teach to those things. Anyway, after looking at the data, I saw that the 6th grade as a whole, was low on audience and purpose. They didn't know what it meant, so that had me thinking.

Two friends of mine, two amazing teacher's had the idea of teaching the difference between mode and genre to teachers, because they struggled with it. So I stole their idea, made some modifications, and here is what I did.

I told my kids to fold their paper in half (hamburger) and then draw a line on the crease. They had three minutes (yes, I timed them) to write the names of as many TV shows as they could think of. At then end of that three minutes, they had another three minutes to group all of these into categories--comedy, drama, reality TV, etc. I called on kids, and I wrote their category, followed by the shows that would fall under that category. We did four categories, then I made them write some more: Pick one show in each category, then explain why this show is comedy. I gave them four minutes, then gave them another three to tell me the purpose of the show, and who the target audience was--to make sure they understood, we talked about who cartoon makers target compared to the producers of Survivor. The room was fill with with the blunt noises of sharpened pencils writing on paper. I called on kids, asking, "Who thinks they've got Drama nailed?" and with hesitation, hands went up.
The next step was t get them to apply this to books. I pick up an old National Geographic, one about the Gray Whales, and read a few paragraphs. Then I read from an encyclopedia, an entry about Gray Whales. I asked them what the difference was. I asked them was the audience the same, and this is where we had some interesting dialogue: some thought it was the same because of the information given, some thought it was different because of how the writing "sounded" because it wasn't just facts, and was more entertaining.
So I hold up a children's book about the Sudan, a fairly thick book with small print, and some pictures through out--not too many. I made them tell me what the purpose of each was and who the audience was for each. Then, a Captain Underpants book. Then a G.I.R.L.S. Rule book.

The next day, it was time to take the next step, use some teacher lingo, and see what they know and what they can do.
I write, "Narrative, Expository, Persuasive, Descriptive" on the board, each in it's own little box. They fold their papers into quarters, do the same, and we talk about what genres fit under each. They immediately say books have to be under narrative, no shock, and then when one girl says books can go under Expository, students look like they've heard total heresy. I write it down, and they watch me carefully, as if I would say, "No, it goes here." Then, as our list grows for each of the four modes, they see how they can fit into more than one mode. I pull out the Grapes of Wrath, and read half of the first chapter, but before I do, I ask what the mode is. They agree it's expository. I read, and then ask again. One young lady, whom have known since she was a 4th grader--I pulled her from literacy to have her to a multi-genre research project with a 5th grade class I was team-teaching during my planning period--and she said, "I think it could be descriptive. He never mentions any people. It's just about the land."
You have to love these kids.
Then, I read the first page and a half from A Tale of Two Cities, and though no one said historical fiction, they said it was, "like, information."
They talked more about audience, purpose, and what they have read and where it would fit.
I've taught this to teachers who were so quick to argue about why I was wrong about mode and genre, What the hell do I know, I'm only a writer, that they didn't listen. These 11 and 12 year-olds took what I said, took the knowledge they had, and made their own understanding. They couldn't care if I was right, if some soon-to-be millionaire who teaches writing to our district (who by the way confuses mode and genre) is right. They wanted to learn, were so excited that by looking at the cover or by reading a little bit of the book, that they knew both the audience and purpose.
If only we all got this excited about learning.


Post a Comment

<< Home