How do you teach something without first knowing the subject inside and out?
Answer: not very well.
As a 12th grade English teacher, it is part of my job to teach my students effective communication, both written and verbal, as they prepare to enter the collegiate or working world. In order to teach my students how to communicate, I need to first understand the complexities of it myself and then use that information to communicate effectively to them. Bazerman writes that when we take part in a certain academic conversation or text, we “take on the mood, attitude, and actional possibilities of that place…do the kinds of things you do there, think the kinds of things you think there, feel the kind of way you feel there, satisfy what you can satisfy there, be the kind of person you can become there,” (13). He describes communication as a social construct, a community to voluntarily engage in and become a part of. I need to get my students there. I need to look at who my audience is and prepare them for the type of communication they are about to engage in–and from there I can teach them to do the same with their audiences and utterances.
I’m not sure if anyone has explicitly taught my students how to engage in academia and to have academic conversations. Those things happen in school all the time, but are the students cognizant of it, that they may get the most out of it by preparing for it mentally? If we can get our students ready for an academic conversation by explaining their role in the discourse, their goals for the event, and how it is going to happen, then maybe they will be able to see more clearly through the complex ideas and thoughts that are thrown their way. They would have a lens to look through, a picture of how it all works together. Only then will students understand how to reach their own audiences effectively. My students are about to enter into working and academic worlds. In those communities, they will be required to write or communicate with certain audiences, be it professors, a boss, a customer, a classmate, or an adviser. In order to communicate their thoughts, questions, and expectations clearly, they will need to consider their audience and write or speak accordingly. Just as discussed in my previous blog post, as teachers we consider our audience (parents, administrators, students) before deciding the best way to communicate (both mode and language used). Students will need to learn this skill.
Amy Devitt writes that “What we often diagnose as ignorance of a situation or inability to imagine themselves in another situation may in fact be ignorance of a genre or inability to write a genre they have not sufficiently read” (583). Similarly, maybe their inability to communicate effectively by looking at audience and rhetoric is that they have not been exposed to these things sufficiently enough to understand their effects on themselves. If they have not experienced the effects, how are they supposed to understand how to create them?
Once we can get our students prepared for academic discourse by talking about it and setting some goals, by helping them see the point of it all, we can then expose them to it and help them gain experience in it. If they are prepared for it and then get experience in it, their understanding of how genres and social situations work to create meaning within a text should be recognizably elevated, as they are part of those social situations experiencing various genres based on their discourse communities. From here, we can enter into teaching them how to utilize genre, to create communication with an audience effectively.
For example, before beginning a deeper discussion in the classroom setting, talking about what the point of the discussion is (maybe to gain deeper understanding of certain characters and how their motivations relate to us and the real world), how we will accomplish this goal as a community (by offering up thoughts and ideas, whether partial or complete, in order to work together to create meaning from this story), and the expected social guidelines (listen to what your classmates say and build upon their ideas rather than jumping to something unrelated, in effect fragmenting the communication), THEN our students can focus on the ideas rather than on what it is that they are supposed to be doing in the situation.
In Gunther Kress’s discussion of genre, he concludes that mixed genres, or “multimodality,” is preferred and most effective in conveying a realistic message (52). This includes the use of pictures, charts, graphs, diagrams alongside text in order to reach an intended audience and communicate an utterance. Again, if we prepare students for this type of discourse and then expose them to it, give them experience with and in it, then we can move on to them creating it. Just as Bazerman writes “If you want to be a more knowledgeable cook or you want to have more elaborate fantasies about food, then you repeatedly read cookbooks,” (14) so we do the same with multimodal communication. We immerse our students in the genre, first preparing them for the social situation, therefore providing them with the tools to create their own texts based on audience, which is always the backbone to communicating effectively.
If we want them to create meaningful conversation or written communication, we must first expose them to it, immerse them in it, and get them comfortable working with it.
Back to the initial question, slightly altered: How do you create effective communication without first being exposed to examples of it?
Answer: Not very well.
Bazerman, Charles. “Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of the Internet and the Age of Global Capitalism.” The
Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton. Print.
Devitt, Amy J. “Generalizing About Genre:New Conceptions of an Old Concept.” College Composition
and Communication 44.4 (1993):573-586. Print.
Kress, Gunther. “Multimodality, Multimedia, and Genre.” Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World.