Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
This past week I was visiting the University of Rochester and the Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program, to give workshops to writing instructors there. I enjoy working with faculty and students from other programs and discovering different perspectives on writing, teaching, and writing programs. I always come home knowing more than before I left.
Here are my descriptions of the two workshops from last week:
How to Choose the Genres You Use
All teachers (and students) use genres in their courses, whether they know it or not. This workshop explores why it matters which genres you choose and how to choose them well. Working from teachers’ current reading and writing assignments, this workshop invites teachers to examine the genres they currently use, decide the extent to which those genres are achieving their goals, and explore alternative genres and what they might offer. Participants should bring their current writing assignments and should leave with ideas for how to revise or expand those assignments.
How to Use the Genres You Choose
Using different teaching strategies, teachers can use genres to teach students different skills and perspectives, all of which can make them more successful writers and readers. You can use genres to help students learn how to write one particular genre or many future genres. You can use genres to give students access to a particular community—like the academy or a profession—or to any community they might encounter in the future. And you can teach students how to conform to the genres in their lives or how to reform or resist those genres. This workshop will ask teachers to explore their own goals and current practices and to consider how they might apply or adapt some of the suggested strategies and activities.
Of course, those descriptions contain lots of material for blog posts, as well as other workshops. Feel free to let me know if there’s a topic you’d like me to write about some day.
Or if you’d like me to give a workshop for your own institution!
Today, in my tiredness now that I’m home, I got to thinking about the genre of the workshop. And what a range there is of stuff we call “workshops.” I wasn’t delivering a lecture this time, or a “talk” or a seminar. I was offering workshops.
What makes a workshop a workshop?
I started with how interactive it is. Workshops involve participants being active, trying out ideas the presenter (me, in this case) offers for their own uses.
But the workshop is a physical space, too, originally. A workshop where work is done. A woodworker’s workshop. A home workshop. A place where things are made.
Now that’s a workshop.
Like all good language nuts, I searched the Oxford English Dictionary to discover when that original meaning expanded. The physical workshop, meaning:
“A room, small building, etc., in which goods are manufactured or repaired.”
That meaning was recorded in 1556 and continues today.
The extended meaning is newer:
“A meeting or conference at which the participants engage in intensive discussion and activity relating to a particular subject or project”
Started in the US, first recorded in this meaning in 1912, and by 1937 referred comfortably to a “Summer workshop” where participants had their own projects for which they sought “aid and advice”
“The Workshop” for some might name the writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa. Officially begun in 1936, this workshop gathered writers of poetry and fiction to study under a distinguished writer. Lots of other universities have writers’ workshops.
And of course we all “workshop” (verb) our drafts, sharing them with other writers to get suggestions for revising. That emphasis on getting advice started mostly (first citation 1961) with theater workshopping, when a performance would be given as a way to work out the bugs before the show opened for real.
What might be different with the enlarged workshop meaning is its collaborative nature. You don’t work in a writing or conference workshop independently, making your own thing. You share your work with others, hear what they have to say about it, before going on to change it in ways that you decide are helpful. I imagine manufacturing workshops could also be collaborative, but it didn’t seem to be a requirement.
But the heart of the workshop, it seems to me, stays within that initial physical workshop, a place where things are made or repaired.
A good workshop is a productive workshop, a place where people work on their projects, making new things or revising the old. And where everyone works.
As I return from the week tired and in need of rest, it helps to know that I came by that tiredness honestly. After all, I was working as we workshopped in the workshop.
Whether in a small building, tool shed, or conference room, workshops are productive work.
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