Review of Engaging Students in Academic Literacies: Genre-based Pedagogy for K-5 Classrooms


Reviewed by Cameron S. Nitta

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Brisk, María Estela (2014-07-25). Engaging Students in Academic Literacies: Genre-based Pedagogy for K-5 Classrooms. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.  US $112.90 ISBN-13:  978-0415737036 (hardback); US $56.95 ISBN-10:  0415737036 (paperback); US $42.71 (Kindle) 

In the United States of America, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) detail school requirements that include writing instruction that spans a variety of genres and applies to several disciplines. Brisk provides detailed information for educators to plan and execute genre-based English writing education for students in grades K-5 in the text Engaging Students in Academic Literacies.  

“The CCSS… consider three broad text types: narratives, informational/ explanatory, and arguments.” The three categories outlined by the CCSS are broken down further by Brisk into six smaller genres: procedures, recounts/ historical genres, reports, explanations, arguments, and fictional narratives. She goes on to state that writing instruction should not be conducted in a vacuum where students are simply producing writing for the sake of writing. Writing should be approached as a multi-discipline content creating process that builds a student’s abilities through a series of mini-lessons that teach valuable skills that are required for the next stage of the assignment, ultimately working toward a final end goal of making meaningful content.

While the text is focused on general K-5 students in American classrooms, it does provide information and examples for how materials could be utilized for L2 writers. Learning English writing culture is quite difficult for many L2 learners, not simply because of language barriers, but rather because they come with L1 influences. Brisk’s genre-based approach could be an effective way of introducing L2 learners to a new culture of writing by equipping them with the necessary tools for success in small steps. Teachers who have L2 learners who need to produce work in line with CCSS would benefit greatly from implementing some aspects of this form of structured writing in their curriculum. 

Through the CCSS, The United States has outlined that narratives, informational/ explanatory, and arguments are the forms of writing that should be taught in the CCSS, but that does not mean other countries have the same policies. Therefore, international and domestic teachers who are not required to work with CCSS may feel that this text does not apply to their situation. However, Brisk includes testimonials, in-class examples, and detailed procedures for each grade and genre that can help teachers see how they could apply these tools to their situations or inspire teachers to think about genre-based writing in a different light. This can help L2 instructors plan curriculums based on language ability using buildable learning steps.

Genre-based writing instruction is an interesting way of guiding students through the culture of English writing. By allowing students to create content that has meaning outside of simply writing, students can gain a greater appreciation for the art of communicating with written words and gain a greater respect for the procedures that accompany strong writing.  Brisk’s text is an excellent tool for any teacher who needs practical advice for building a CCSS-based writing curriculum. 
Cameron S. Nitta has been teaching English in a Japanese public high school in the Ibaraki prefecture for about 5 years. 

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ITBE Link - Spring 2016 - Volume 44 Number 1