3 Flavors of Literacy Narrative: Picking the right one for your class

As I note in “10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World,” I have long had a love affair with the literacy narrative. Almost all my writing classes — and many of my education classes — begin with some variation of a literacy narrative assignment:

A literacy narrative is method many use to explore their relationship and history with literacy (traditionally reading, writing, and speaking but a growing number today include multiple literacies)

I am not alone in my love of the literacy narrative as many amazing educators continue to use the literacy narrative is a tool to help students grow as writers and thinkers. However, even though we love literacy narratives (maybe because we love them), many of us recognize the need for this educational tool to evolve and change with the times. Over the years I have reinvented my literacy narrative assignment so we can bring in a wider range of texts and ideas. As a result my literacy narrative assignment has become more of a transliteracy narrative.

As with all good assignments, educators need to adapt the approach to the specific teaching context as they explore their unique students, class, and objectives. There are a huge variety of literacy narrative assignments out there in the world, but I think most of these can actually be placed in three categories.

  • Vanilla: Drawing from your personal experiences on your journey toward literacy
  • Chocolate: Blending your personal opinions and experiences with outside sources to make an argument about literacy
  • Strawberry: Developing your definition of a specific literacy and/or making an argument for or about that literacy

The flavor employed for each class is driven by context. I tend toward vanilla for my fresh-to-college, first-year students. I want them to examine their education – and its purpose – as well as unpack the failures of the system while making sure they need to take responsibility/ownership for their own failures. This, for me, is an important step toward agency and self-regulation and usually involves a lot of very personal writing. I tend to use the chocolate argument about literacy for second-year students. This class uses philosophical readings to inspire our exploration of big humanities ideas through discussion and writing. This is less personal, but certainly very individual as we explore the ways that our personal experiences influence the ways we interact with texts. I use the strawberry literacy narrative for advanced students as we explore very specific definitions of literacy in disciplines and fields. For example, what does it mean to be a Chemist or Musician or Geographer?

When designing a literacy narrative assignment it can be helpful to think about your goal for your students and that assignment. What is the end result you hope for? What do you want your students to learn/gain from the experience and how do you want them to demonstrate that change? My blog post, “10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World,” describes the results I tend to see from my vanilla literacy narrative assignment, but as my goals become more complex for my students I move more toward a transliteracy narrative.

What are your literacy goals for your students? What flavor of literacy narrative best serves your literacy goals for your students? How can you use a literacy narrative to support your students’ growth as writers and thinkers?



Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

2 thoughts on “3 Flavors of Literacy Narrative: Picking the right one for your class

  1. Right after I read this post, I read this and appreciated how as he watches his son grow, he talks about his own literacy. It’s “vanilla,” mostly, but pure Madagascar bean, with some chocolate and strawberry swirls, that’s for sure. Thanks for the ice cream analogy!

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