National Writing Project

Book Review: Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers, by Tom Romano

By: Stephen Smarjesse
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4
Date: Fall 2000

Summary: Smarjesse argues that Romano's multigenre approach engages students in higher levels of creative thought, helping them also to develop and hone basic skills.


Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers

Tom Romano. Boynton/Cook, 2000. 208 pp. $18.50.
ISBN 0-8670-9478-8.

For me, part of good teaching includes creating new assignments to fit the students' interests and changes in society. When the year changed from 1999 to 2000, my assignments seemed antiquated, and I was even more inspired to find unique ideas for teaching writing. Tom Romano's newest book, Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers, introduced me to a creative research approach. A colleague recommended this book as an extension of the I-Search format established by Ken Macrorie, which emphasizes primary sources rather than secondary information and frees the researcher to write about discoveries using first person pronouns. Romano's approach offers even more creative opportunities.

Multigenre papers are layered with poetry, letters, scripts, song lyrics, narratives, and news articles created in response to information found through research. The basis for Romano's approach is to "[r]esist explaining, summing up, and analyzing. Create scenes instead. Become like the novelist or filmmaker" (72). Personal topics, such as family history, take a new appearance and tone when the writer creates a letter that an ancestor did not have time to write. In a traditional report on a typical research topic such as anorexia, the writer funnels information from primary or secondary sources into a standard form. When the writer uses the same source information to write a multigenre paper, however, the facts might become the basis of a realistic diary for a fictional victim of the disease, and the finished product might also include photographs, original drawings, or photocopied art.

The multigenre paper thus engages students in a higher level of creative thought. At the same time, it helps them develop and hone their basic skills. Rather than summarizing the information in a report, they use the facts to create multiple "[g]enres of narrative thinking," which Romano tells us "require writers to be concrete and precise. They can't just tell in abstract language. They can't just be paradigmatic. They must show. They must make their topics palpable" (26).

The multigenre paper is a new concept for most readers, and those who expect a traditional research paper will quickly lose their way. Romano discovered through classroom experience that students must orient readers by writing an introduction that clearly explains the process used in developing the paper and that also contextual-izes the topic. He suggests that the first genre to follow the introduction be carefully chosen, because its powerful position will set the tone for the entire product.

He invites teachers interested in having students plunge into multigenre papers to use his examples, written by students ranging from elementary to college age, until students can provide their own models. Teachers interested in finding out more about multigenre papers will find references, lists of works cited, and helpful resources, including step-by-step instructions, exercises, and classroom strategies for specific parts of the process. Teachers not yet ready to take the plunge might make use of the chapters devoted to a specific genre, such as "The Many Ways of Poems," which offers a new look at haiku and introduces newer forms such as poems for two voices.

Sandy Nesvig, Minnesota Writing Project fellow and middle-school language arts teacher whom Romano quotes in the book, has been using the multigenre approach since she heard the author speak about it several years ago. In her experience, "the approach works well for all students because of the independence it allows. It especially works well for the artistic student who often includes poetry and visual products like collages." She agrees with Romano's observations that there are two ways of learning—emotional and intellectual. Nesvig believes that the multigenre approach promotes a very different way of knowing. "It is a close way of learning, and it allows kids to become emotionally involved."

At the heart of this research approach lies an important academic discussion about the value of narrative product rather than expository writing. Romano proposes that "[i]n multigenre papers writers can combine fact with imagination to invent scenes that illustrate truth, or . . . to render scenes that actually happened but whose details have been lost. Imagination, after all, is a powerful way of knowing" (68).

I find Romano's multigenre approach to research inspiring. After twenty-nine years in a traditional school setting, I found the appeal of teaching in an alternative school irresistible, and Romano has given me an important tool for teaching in a new environment.

About the Author Stephen Smarjesse is a high school language arts teacher at the Osseo Area Learning Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He serves on the policy board for the Minnesota Writing Project.

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