Genre and Narrativity

The curricular focus on content and language acquisition toward advanced levels of literacy has resulted in placing discourse (or texts in oral and written form) at the functional center of the "Developing Multiple Literacies" curriculum. This affects materials choices, preferred pedagogical approaches, preferred pedagogical tasks, and the nature of assessment. In its efforts to develop students' writing ability, the program has replaced an additive approach--from word, to phrase, to sentence, to paragraph, to coherent writing event--with a functionalist approach that is shaped through the construct of genre. Within the sequenced levels of the curriculum (Levels I - III and Text in Context) in particular, narratives have become a useful way for highlighting central characteristics of cohesive and coherent texts and for making learners aware of the shift in semiotic practices that accompanies the shift from telling private stories to presenting public (hi)stories.

This page provides both a general overview of that sequence and specific examples of how genres are incorporated into the curricular sequence and, through genre-based tasks, into our pedagogies.

General Overview

  • In Level I, instruction is primarily geared to modeling short functional texts in a range of contexts, thereby acquainting students, right from the beginning, with a whole-text perspective and with various ways of reaching toward comprehending such texts and producing their own first coherent texts. Emphasis lies on the sentence and its various formal requirements.
  • In Level II, one form of narrativity becomes prototypical, the personal story that relies on chronological ordering. This means that various aspects of the creation of coherent and cohesive discourse will be extensively modeled, analyzed, and practiced in a range of contexts. As that basis continues to become firmer, other forms of discourse are gradually introduced, particularly in terms of their organizational patterns and their most frequent discourse markers.
  • In Level III, discursive behavior is extended in the following ways:
  1. the personal stance that prevailed in Level II is expanded into the public sphere, that is, individual events are put into larger contexts, mainly through comparison and contrast, cause and effect, the presentation of alternative proposals, and making decisions based on real or imagined choices.
  2. the simple narrativity of consecutive chronology is expanded and made more complex (different positions of author and actor(s) with regard to retrospective, prospective, contemporaneous, involved, distanced perspectives and different forms of engagement);
  3. discourses beyond the narrative are deliberately taught, to be acquired on a first level of awareness and use (e.g., comparison and contrast; description; supporting opinions, providing information cogently and persuasively; cause and effect).

This expansion involves many of the previous formal characteristics, particularly as far as actor/action sequences are concerned. In those areas, greater emphasis can be placed on accuracy. In the other areas, this treatment amounts to expanding the notion of discourse, inasmuch as other ways of presenting and managing information or interaction between different actors and the author, and other forms of realizing local cohesion and global organization/coherence are gradually incorporated.

  • Text in Context extends discursive behavior from the concrete into the abstract realm, focusing on the secondary discourses of public life, as contrasted with the primary discourses of familiarity and direct interaction that were at the heart of Levels I - III. While many of the issues that were central to Level III require continued attention, particularly as far as accuracy is concerned, Text in Context targets the cognitive and linguistic demands that characterize this shift from congruent to synoptic semiosis with its increasingly complex nominalized system (including expanded options for modification).

Specific Uses of Genres in Curricular Sequencing and Pedagogy

The importance of genre and of narrativity is best exemplified through the range of genres incorporated into the curricular levels I - IV. Particularly instructive is the use of genres that exemplify the shift from personal to public stories that characterizes the Level III courses, "German Stories, German Histories." This detailed tabulation prepared during the fall of 2003 by Cori Crane further demonstrates the link between genres and tasks and the diverse ways in which pedagogies and instructional goals explicitly rely on the characteristics of genres.

Updated November 13, 2003; revised July 2011