Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Interesting Class

I blogged last week about the two classes I observed by faculty nominated for this year's Boulder Faculty Assembly Excellence in Teaching Award - one class in calculus (!) and another in chemistry - and what I learned from each one. Yesterday I observed a third nominated class. This time I had a better chance of actually understanding what was going on, because it was a class in - writing! Business communication writing, but still, writing. I do know something about writing.

The particular class I observed was on genre - already intriguing, for a business writing class. The instructor's plan was to build toward a discussion of the genre of writing cover letters and resumes (hardly my favorite genre), but this was a day just on genre itself. I came away from it with one big important point.

The teacher asked the students to think of how they use the word "genre" - I could tell that most of them thought that they had never yet used it in their lives. But then he pointed out that we use the word in its adjectival form at least once a week: "generic" - as when we go to the drug store to find a generic drug for our ills, one that has the right ingredients. However, it isn't the ingredients that matter most of all for genre, that is to say, the various conventions we might seek to observe; it's the whole effect, in particular, how something MAKES US FEEL. This is what we care about when we look for the generic drug: not whether the label reveals that the drug contains chemical compound x, or y, but how it will work on us, in is, that is to say, GETTING WELL. And in writing, it's the same: the point is the overall effect, on our overall affect. The reading for the class focused on what its author called "exigence" - the urgent need to which I am responding as I write.

This was my take-away point from his excellent and engaging class. So my new question for myself as I write is: to what urgent need am I responding? If I do succeed in responding to it, then maybe I've done the most important thing a writer ever can do.

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