3 Reasons to (Re)Write the Literacy Narrative

All, Teaching Tips

I love literacy narratives. I love to read them. I love to write them. I love to teach them. This should come as no surprise to the readers of my blog as I’ve often written about literacy narratives. My blog post 10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World describes more fully my love for literacy narratives and the many ways they support the work of my classes. However, each semester as I teach literacy narratives I have pushed beyond the traditional assignment. First, by expanding the definition of literacy to include the multiple literacies we must master in the modern world and then by exploring different media to produce our literacy narratives and more recently by building the foundation for our transliteracy work (explained more fully in What is the purpose of literacy: An argument for teaching transliteracy). I am not alone in reinventing my literacy narrative assignment (you can see some of the forces that inspired me in my blog post Notable Notes: Considering the Literacy Narrative). The literacy narrative is a powerful teaching and learning tool, but it can do so much more than many teachers allow. Consider these three reasons (and even more benefits) for rewriting your literacy narrative assignment.

One of the most powerful arguments for writing literacy narratives in middle school, high school, and college is to heal the wounds inflicted by previous literacy experiences. Very few students do not have negative literacy experiences in school. The struggling students have experienced failure and ridicule often resulting in bitter loathing of the subject and themselves. However, even successful students have fought against censorship and rigid rules that hampered their creativity or curiosity. However they get there, all too often students are taught early on that reading and writing in school is not fun or interesting or a place to experiment. It breaks my heart, but I have heard too many stories not to believe it is true. As a result exploring the K-12 education system in our country offers a rich opportunity for writing and reading. This is a topic that the most jaded student is passionate to explore. We could write and share literacy narrative poetry slams all semester. Simply expanding the topic of our narratives from literacy to education has inspired some of the best writing and most meaningful conversations of my teaching career – and students tell me over and over again that they never thought they could speak in class and write in the ways this topic has inspired them to express.

Another way that expanding the discussion from the more traditional literacy definition of reading and writing to multiple literacies offers us is the understanding of the place of literacy within education. We spend a lot of time reading, talking, and writing about the purpose of education – exploring this simple question: “why are we here”. My students conclude semester after semester that education is more than traditional literacy as we talk about multiple literacies including information literacy, network literacy, visual literacy, media literacy, cultural literacy, and more. While our traditional print literacy experiences are the foundation of our growth and development as educated people, there is so much more necessary to be successful in life. More importantly (for me), these conversations and explorations demonstrate how literacy is essential to success in every discipline and professional pathway. Students begin to understand that literacy, that reading and writing, are not disconnected subjects to be learned and forgotten, but instead are integral tools to support these other essential literacies.

Finally, I have reinvented my literacy narrative assignment to focus on the idea of transliteracy. I want my students to do more than read and write texts. I want them to dig deeper into their meaning and I want them to find ways to connect those texts and the ideas they represent. While I have read some amazing traditional literacy narratives, it is too easy to let that assignment become a superficial treatment of the topic. The passion that my students bring to our discussions of education from their own experiences to responding to the ideas shared from outside our classroom allows us to dig deeper into a topic they already know and understand to see it in new ways and through different lenses.

I am still passionate about using literacy narratives in my classes, but I have reinvented my literacy narrative assignment so we can bring in a wider range of texts and ideas. The results have been spectacular. Have you thought about reinventing the literacy narrative? Have you reinvented the literacy narrative in your classroom?

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