Teacher goosebumps. We’ve all had them: students are focused, consulting their Writer’s Notebooks, talking to each other, incorporating what they learned into their writing. It’s what we live for. No moment in the academic year ever evokes this synchrony more than the multigenre project.
Defining Through Experience
Like my students, you might be wondering what multigenre is. I learned about multigenre during my first year of teaching when I attended a workshop with Tom Romano, the godfather of multigenre. Dr. Romano has since become a mentor and colleague and his work continues to inspire my students 15 years later. Shana
When we begin our multigenre unit, students have, at best, a vague notion of the vocabulary, but no experience.
Before class begins, I conspire with one of the orneriest kids; today it’s Jamal. Together, we quickly whisper a plan. As students finish up their vocabulary quiz, I look to Jamal, eyebrows raised.
“Jamal! I just saw that. You cheated,” I accuse heatedly. Suppressing a smile, Jamal shifts to fake outrage. We verbally spar a bit, ensuring all students tune in. They’re used to firm classroom management. Today it’s different.
Channeling all my inner drama queen, I huff and puff and toss my ID badge and keys to the floor. “Guess, what? I’m done!” I proclaim as I storm out of the door.
I wait a beat. Then before students can get too excited, I burst back in the door and high-five Jamal. Students are confused, excited, hyped. “You’re trying to figure it out, right? Well, before we talk about it, let’s write about it.”
Students grab their Writer’s Notebooks (WNB) as I pass out notecards. On each notecard is a genre of writing with which my students are familiar: Facebook post, text message conversation, letters, among them.
And students write. For three minutes their pens flow and they capture all the nuances — the questions, the perspectives, the layers. We share writing. We collaborate. We grow as a community.
“We’ve just created a multigenre,” I explain and share Romano’s definition of multigenre.
Once we define multigenre, the next step is to immerse ourselves in mentors. Using past projects, as well the ones I’ve curated at Multigenre Library, we participate in a multigenre tasting. We create lists of the qualities of multigenre, as well as a rubric and checklist for this kind of writing. After establishing guidelines, students go back to their notebooks and explore their writing territories, finding compelling topics.
The bulk of the time for this unit is spent workshopping, conferencing, writing. We spend time in three main ways:
- Genre minilessons
- Research minilessons
- Revision minilessons
In genre mini-lessons, I stand firmly on Katie Wood Ray’s shoulders, knowing that asking my students to notice things in a piece of text is the key to them reading like writers. So, when we are going to try a new genre, we start by looking at examples of that genre. We make a list of rules/guidelines for that kind of writing and then we write about our own topic. Together we explore double voice poems, recipes, and open letters. Katie wrote about one of my favorite genres to explore in this post last month.
Once students have tried out lots of different ways of writing, from lots of different perspectives, we talk about incorporating research into their writing in a purposeful way. Whether students are writing about personal topics, or more traditional research subjects, they need to know how to add a layer of research because it deepens the writing and builds their own knowledge.
I began to save the research step until later in the process after they’d generated plenty of writing about their topics. They write a bit, then conduct research, then weave that research into writing that already exists. This approach has cut down on plagiarism. More importantly, it’s made the writing and the research more authentic.
Publishing & Assessment
Next students publish. We discuss how important it is to remember that their writing is the engine of the multigenre project. A beautiful presentation falls flat if the writing doesn’t show evidence of craft. This is an English class, after all. Students conference with me and with each other about ways they might present their work. Some choose digital platforms, others create scrapbooks.
I have tried many approaches to assessing student learning within this unit. I used to have a rubric that was so detailed you’d need a magnifying glass to read it (which means nobody actually read it). Now I use a simple rubric, one we create together. Students must have a certain number or pieces, and write in a set number of genres. There needs to be passion and voice. Mostly, though, I focus on feedback. I make notes on post-its and stick them on pages where their voice soars, where images pop. The assessment has already happened through conferencing and workshopping. In the end, we focus on celebrating the work and how far they’ve come.
Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, working with teachers in all grade levels to move kids as readers and writers. She’s getting ready to introduce multigenre to 150 freshman next week while covering a 3-week sub position. She might be a little crazy (but also really excited).