Sunday, November 23, 2014

Teaching Text Types: Music & Micro-Lecture on Masculinity

One of the most significant lessons I learned from the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) is the notion of simultaneously teaching two or three different text types about similar topic or theme. What a great way to analyze writing strategies and purposes by comparing and contrasting two compositions.

By text types, I mean one of three categories: narrative, informative, and argumentative, types cribbed from the Common Core. While I'm aware of (and in agreement with) certain criticisms of Common Core, I appreciate the simplicity of three categories. The text book I've used in the past lists nine text types, making the lesson more about memorizing terms than about applying strategies. Three is easier to handle. 

Last week, I asked students to consider two different compositions, an old school hip hop music video and a Youtube "micro-lecture." Both address language, bullying, and masculinity, but one leans more heavily on narrative, the other on informative. 

The song "Language of Violence" by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (SF Bay Area, represent!) tells the story of a teenager who harasses and murders a classmate who himself ends up in jail where he is violated. Micheal Franti's lyrics are primarily narrative supported by informative strategies. The informative moments clarify the significance of the song's story. Being a song, however, those informative sections rely on poetic. literary conventions rather than what readers might expect from a more formal, standard explanatory piece. 

The lecture "Bullying, Masculinity, and the Spectre of the Fag" by Colorado College Sociology professor C.J. Pascoe, as the genre implies, is typical of the informative text type, featuring definition, cause/effect, and compare/contrast. The lecture clearly complements the song, even with its different strategies and audience. Significantly, the lecture does include narrative moments (the bits from The 40 Year Old Virgin and the Afghanistan vignette) Pascoe uses to illustrate her larger points. 

Using texts that work a similar theme made it easier to identify the different rhetorical choices the authors made, the different appeals authors deployed. Because the texts were aimed at different audiences, figuring out how to infer audience became super easy. 

Showing both clips demonstrated that compositions, depending on their purpose and audience, blend different text types, mixing them in different ratios. Students noted there is no "pure" text type. Indeed, if I tell a story, it helps to provide clarifying explanations regarding context, relevance, or significance. And effective informative texts do include narrative moments to clarify and for pathos appeal.  

Think of the books and essays by Malcolm Gladwell, bell hooks, and the guys behind Freakonomics. Their writing weaves together story-telling and expository strategies. The stories make digesting the information painless. And the explanatory moments make clear the meaning and importance of the anecdotes. The ratio depends on, again, audience and purpose. 

The conceit/prompt I used to introduce this activity asked students to assume the role of social science teachers who had to make a decision about using the clips to teach a class: Which text would you, a Sociology professor teaching a general education course, use first? Would you begin with the music video or the micro-lecture? 

The challenge included several purposes: to iterate the difference between text types; to demonstrate how text types work together; to practice considering the relationship between audience, purpose, and choice, and to strengthen reasoning skills. This meant students had to analyze both texts as well as "psyche out" their own audience (the Sociology GE course). 

Discussion was lively and meaningful; student realized there was no single "right" answer, just solutions  more reasonable than others. This was probably one of the first times students got that assumptions are a crucial element of reasoning when it comes to working with an audience. To work this challenge, students had to make their educated guesses and hunches about their hypothetical Sociology class visible, a completely different animal than stereotypes or prejudice. 

I've done this sort of textual pairing before, hoping to replicate what I experienced at SDAWP. Those earlier attempts were somewhat successful, but I kept at it. I'm beginning to see the utility of teaching two or three texts at the same time. My next steps? To keep my eyes open for good pairings/grouping of texts (short ones!) to teach and to test out quick assessments to see how well learning objectives are met. 

I've already got a couple text pairs marinating in my head for next semester. I'll post about those when I give them a try. Anyone one else work with paired or grouped texts? I'd love to read about your experiences or ideas about paired texts. Suggestions?