Excerpts from my original online gallery submission for Elon University's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. However, this page does not exist.

Teaching Reflection: Multi-Genre Research

Breaking Tradition
As a teacher of first-year composition, one of my main goals is to prepare students for the types of writing and research they will encounter throughout college. In the past, my students’ final project was a literature review based on a topic of their choice, a traditional way of teaching research-based academic writing. Though my students were enthusiastic about choosing their own topic, their final papers were limited in scope and included little to no student response and perspective. I could see that they were bored with research—an inquiry process that should be exciting—and despised the final report; and to be honest, I dreaded reading another ten-page paper on abortion or gun control, especially when the final product had few traces of my students’ creativity, critical thinking, and voice.

After attending a conference session on multi-genre research projects, I was inspired to change the way I had my students approach research and compose their final papers. At the session and in his work Blending Genre, Altering Style, Tom Romano (2000) explained the educational possibilities of asking students to break the traditional form for a research report. Romano gave the following definition of multi-genre:

A multi-genre paper arises from research, experience and imagination. . . . [It] is composed of many genres and subgenres, each piece self-contained, making a point of its own, yet connected by theme or topic and sometimes by language, images, and content. . . . [It] may also contain many voices, not just the author’s. The trick is to make such a paper hang together as a whole. (pp. x-xi)

Multi-genre projects are nontraditional, which can be both exciting and challenging for students and teachers. As with typical academic writing assignments, the project is based out of research, but the major difference is in how the final product is composed and presented. Students compose various genre entries to convey researched information, relay a rhetorical message, and/or produce a response in the reader; the final product might be a journal entry, followed by an obituary, a brochure, a collage.

Student Learning and Perspective
On their final reflections, many students made comments specifically about the multi-genre project:

  • "I worked really hard on creating a project that was very creative, but at the same time, very effective at communicating my rhetorical message to my intended audience.”
  • “After I turn in the project, I was wondering if I could get it back after winter break. I worked so hard on it that I would love to look back on it some time.”
  • “I really put a lot of time into researching and actually writing my genres. All of my suitemates were surprised to see how much work I was putting into this project.

These comments reveal that many students were actively engaged in this activity and committed to producing high-quality and creative final projects. In the past, my students never asked me to return their literature review to “look back” at it in the future. I actually had a difficult time obtaining sample multi-genre projects to use the following semester because so few students wanted to give away their work.

As I reflect on teaching the multi-genre project, I consider the excitement, heightened creativity, and critical thinking experienced in my college writing course in those last few weeks of the semester. Nevertheless, there were days when we were all frustrated—when I couldn’t explain myself clearly, when they refused to open their minds. But, by the end, the students created excellent projects that revealed how much they had learned. By far, students ranked this as their favorite assignment of the semester; and though student opinion and the fun factor should not always drive our pedagogies, I believe my students had more meaningful learning experiences because of it.