Three Types of Reading

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This post is part of a continuing series on building a course around the textbook Emerging. For previous posts in the series, see here, here, and here. When thinking about how to use the essays in Emerging to construct a sequence, consider the broad general categories within which these readings fall. For example, think of the three kinds of readings available:
  • Narrative. These readings introduce few new ideas but provide fruitful ground for testing and expanding the ideas of others. For example, Joan Didion’s exploration of mourning can serve to test Daniel Gilbert’s concepts about happiness.
  • Conceptual. These readings are primarily theoretical in that they present ideas and, often, these ideas are “sitting on the surface.” The readings provide students with analytical tools with which to explore other readings and with which to make arguments. For example, Francis Fukuyama’s essay is centrally concerned with the “Factor X” that makes humans human. Students can grapple with Fukuyama’s text to comprehend this idea and then revisit it in the context of other essays, such as Mary Roach’s “The Cadaver Who Joined the Army.”
  • Mixed. Mixed readings fall somewhere between the first two categories.  While appearing to be largely narrative they nevertheless contain useful ideas. Students, however, may have to “dig into” the text to locate and deploy these ideas. For example, Debora Spar’s essay presents ideas about ethics, globalization, and economics embedded in a larger narrative about adoption.
In considering a sequence, you’ll benefit from including a good mix of all three types of readings. For first papers, you may wish to avoid a narrative essay, since it will be difficult for students to see the essay as a piece of analytical writing and to respond with a proper argument of their own; conceptual or mixed essays tend to function better for first paper assignments. Similarly, you may wish to avoid a paper that asks students to work with two narrative essays, since it might be difficult for them to generate ideas and form an argument centered on those ideas. The best pairings are conceptual/narrative, conceptual/conceptual, and conceptual/mixed. After all, since we are trying to get students to develop their critical thinking skills, readings that present ideas provide the best material for them to do so.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.