For several years I kicked off my writing classes with a literacy narrative assignment. While I still believe the literacy narrative may be the most powerful tool in any writing teacher’s kit, in more recent years I shifted from the traditional literacy narrative to a transliteracy narrative then moved the assignment to the final deliverable rather than the first. The literacy narrative is a powerful and flexible teaching tool and I hope my literacy narrative journey will inspire more teachers to forge their own path to support the writers in their care.
Writing classes must center authentic writing and there is nothing more authentic than giving writers the chance to share their literacy story – the good, the bad, and the ugly. As I note in 10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World (or at least your writing classroom), there are a lot of important benefits from using the literacy narrative to teach writing, but my bottom line is that writing a literacy narrative can be a transformative experience for any writer. I am not alone as many of my mentors and friends also employ the literacy narrative in their writing classrooms for similar reasons. If you are considering using the literacy narrative then you might find further inspiration in the blog post where I share my favorite ways to inspire literacy narratives and here is another tip for jumpstarting literacy arguments.
While the literacy narrative is a powerful writing experience, it can also be a powerful literacy experience that involves reading, listening, and speaking across a range of media, platforms, and tools (aka transliteracy). In truth, the literacy narrative is not one thing and can be approached by writers in a variety of ways. I have used three flavors of literacy narrative in my classes, but suspect there are infinite varieties. That is why I began focusing on the idea of transliteracy with my students. I like engaging in what some call beautiful questions, questions that encourage us to pause and reflect and reimagine possibility, and so over time my literacy narratives became transliteracy narratives that challenged my students to tell their literacy stories with a bigger question in mind. This led me to (re)write my literacy narrative work. I continued to work to expand my students’ understanding of literacy beyond the basics of reading and writing.
While I still included literacy narratives in my early work with themes, I decided to shift to my four-square writing plan in an effort to do more with less and left the literacy narrative assignment off my syllabus. This move did not mean abandoning literacy narrative work. Instead the literacy narrative has become part of my #ungrading system – specifically the reflection process that has always been key to that work. Now, instead of beginning each class with a literacy narrative assignment, my students wrap up their semester’s work with a reflection essay, a literacy narrative in fact and intent if not name, exploring their journey as a writer and how the semester’s lessons fit into the story. While opening with literacy narratives was powerful work, there is definite value in weaving these reflections throughout the semester and ending with a literacy narrative when writers possess more self-knowledge (thanks to our work that semester) to understand how the semester’s work built onto the past and provides a foundation for the future. I like using this literacy narrative to celebrate what writers have learned, how they have grown, and their goals for the future.
As both a writer and writing teacher, I continue to learn about my own literacy journey which is (in part) how I know this is a journey worth taking with my students. How do you support your students’ exploration of their literacy journey through literacy narratives and reflections?