[…] despite these impediments, we found that students actively make use of the prior knowledge and practice they do have, and in three ways: […]
3. by creating new knowledge and practices for themselves when they encounter what we call a setback or critical incident, which is a failed effort to address a new task that prompts critical ways of thinking about what writing is and how to do it.
(Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak 104)
In Writing across Contexts, Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak identify one way students make use of prior knowledge: a critical incident wherein the student cannot synthesize new and prior knowledge. Because I’m teaching the TFT curriculum, I’m more attuned to what students are doing with concepts like genre and the rhetorical situation than I’ve ever been.
In this particular application of TFT in a WAC-focused course, I have several returning adult students. In many ways, they aren’t too different from the rest of the 19-21 year olds in the course. Specific to this incident, they all came into the course with knowledge of form and not of genre, and they all had a similar gap in their sense of what writing is and how to do it. Concepts of purpose and audience were fairly new, and Bitzer’s articulation of those concepts were entirely new.
What did make these three students different was how long they had been operating from a concept of genre-as-form, genre-as-category. After reading Devitt’s “Generalizing about Genre,” they were suspicious. One, a student in his late 40s, asked why he hadn’t heard about this idea sooner. Despite their ability to apply the concept by identifying genres and analyzing them in terms of their conventions and the situations for which they were composed, they remained suspicious that genres were a real thing.
I supplemented Devitt’s piece with a two articles about genre published in the UCF’s Stylus, an undergraduate journal of FYW. Beyond the very smart applications of genre theory by the students featured in that journal, what resonated most with those adult students were that Bitzer and Devitt were cited in their pieces.
“They cited Devitt, so I guess she really is important.”
Later, we pivoted the course to our WAC focus, bringing forward genre and rhetorical situation. I asked student to locate a peer reviewed journal article in their field in anticipation of doing an analysis of that article. To make a start at learning the conventions of journal articles, we discussed the four moves involved in writing the introduction to journal articles: Swales’ CARS (carving out a research space). Again, they were surprised that this concept proved itself to be true and useful.
“I’ve never seen it like that. That makes sense.”
What I’m gleaning from these experiences is that critical incidents have an affective component–in this case, suspicion and probably some frustration.