Teaching (Writing or Anything Else) Through Experience

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.


9 thoughts on “Teaching (Writing or Anything Else) Through Experience”

  1. I like how you link reading and writing and point out that the lack of ability in writing for a certain genre might be linked to a lack of reading the same. This is something that while true, is often understated. In the way of critique I can only say it might be helpful to add an example or two in toward the middle as you discuss teaching the goals of academic discourse. This might help your readers understand better what that looks like.


  2. You have a wonderful writing style. It is easy to read and relate to but it also gives the feel of academic research. It is a good way to keep readers reading because they do not feel assaulted by pure research and fact but feel that you are personally talking with them on the subject. I would mirror Leigh’s request to add specific examples. You speak about your class in the beginning; consider coming back to your class and describing how you would specifically help them.

    Also, there are a few places where you explain lists of terms or ideas. From a blogging standpoint, consider breaking these into bullet lists to break up the look of the “wall” of text.

    Great post! I look forward to reading more.


  3. Hi Katy,

    Can I just say, I really enjoy reviewing your work! Reading your thoughts on education aligned with the texts from this class is easily relate-able and it fully utilizes the main themes from our authors. I wanted to begin with your ideas on how your job is to “get your students there” when it comes to their abilities to communicate properly. As teachers, we need to understand the strengths and limitations of our students and be flexible with our instructions, especially when our classes are not at the level that they need to be. I also agree that one of our many jobs is constant exposure to form habits. By our setting the example, our students learn the norms, that’s probably why our students raise their hands without knowing that we expect it.

    I also enjoy the flow of your response, the implementation of resources really supports the message you are conveying, Additionally, the examples that you gave explained and also supported your ideas. I think since we all read the article, everything aligns, however, a few vocabulary words could be slightly confusing if you hadn’t read it. Otherwise, I really enjoyed reading you work!


  4. Katy,
    I love your initial question that caught my attention. I love to ask students “What is key in any relationship?” They all respond: “Communication!” Your points are well taken. You say, “He [Bazerman] describes communication as a social construct, a community to voluntarily engage in and become a part of. I need to get my students there.” We as educators have those same goal, yet how do we use language and identity to provide a discourse to get students there? Your comment, “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. “ really got me thinking. How can I create a platform for the teaching of sound communication that engages their own voice while teaching critical thinking and academic communication skills? And yes, we need to provide them with the tools to create their own text to clearly outline their goals in communication. Thank you. I have enjoyed reading your blogs.


  5. Hi Katy,

    I remember my 12th grade English teacher’s classes, and her presence, like it was yesterday. What a special time to be involved with students! Right as they gather themselves on the precipice of adulthood. Kudos to you! You must be made of steel and have a heart of gold.

    I like your opening very much, and of course a teacher must be prepared, with a focused lesson objective and ample materials as well as perhaps a back up plan. I don’t fully disagree though; just in that if you are learning alongside with your students in some sense there is no shame in that; it can be sharing an adventure. I have been doing more research on flip classrooms, where the teacher is a guide on the side rather than a sage on stage and it is very interesting. Lots of possibilities.

    I like how you emphasize the importance of communication and keeping a strong link with your students. You effectively weave academic references through your writing and maintain your strong objective. You share enough detail and maintain clarity. I enjoyed reading your post.



  6. Katy,
    Again, well done post! I really appreciate your style and I love how you integrate your sources in your thoughts to make a seamless transition from one thought to the next. Congrats on teaching a 12th grade class (I bet Spring semester is crazy with senioritis)! I like how you connect reading and writing along with academic discourses and helping students prepare to engage more critically and be more aware of these discourses. I can’t wait for next weeks post!


  7. Katy,
    Many of us are relating to your work as an English teacher, and the responsibilities placed on our shoulders to see to it that students know something about academic discourse before they leave high school. I’ve thought about starting students out with just the basic vocabulary of academic discourse, words like “rhetoric” and “exigence,” words that I need to refresh my memory on all the time. A teacher friend uses Socratic dialogues, even with freshmen, which seems great.

    So it’s a challenge: higher-level thinking for the students and an exercise in stretching instructional skills for the teachers. It’s not easy, but if we don’t try, the kids will be lost in the college environment.

    I enjoyed reading your post!


  8. Katy,
    Your ideas on the importance of genre certainly are solid. Genre seems to me to be one of those concepts that we’re aware of as we get older, but we don’t think much about it or put a name to it. I think the key, as you said, is using experience as a teaching tool. Certainly your own experience with ideas and concepts can help you translate them to your students, but their own experience is even more valuable. Using the students’ experiences to build on can help them understand all kinds of concepts. Naturally,not everyone has the exact same experiences, but with our culture, there should be quite a few that are shared. Of course, this is where you have to know your class and how their growing-up has possibly differed from your own.

    Nice job!


  9. What constitutes effective communication?
    And, what signifies academic communication?

    If you could clarify what you mean by “effective communication,” especially within the context of 12th grade academic discourse, then your ideas would be that much more clearly articulated. By focusing on specific aspects of academic discourse, you can then connect them with your other ideas in regards to genre and audience.

    Also, you cite Bazerman’s social constructionist tendencies, but you don’t offer much analysis — which would help explain “why [you] need to get [your] students there.” The dialectic, social aspects you rightly mention both define and reinforce the notion of audience for the teacher and the student. How do the tensions between these two roles construct new kinds of communication within an academic setting? A question worth pursuing, no doubt.

    All in all, this piece posed some interesting questions and presented them in an engaging, personal manner. If you were to make some of your areas of inquiry more specific, it might inspire a practical solution in the classroom.


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