Literacy Narrative


  1. Reflections on why you should use literacy narratives

  2. Selected readings about literacy narratives (with brief notes)

  3. Selected excerpts:

    342 These and other stories come from the literacy narrative-s assignmentsw here students are asked to tell about and reflect upon their experiences with readinga nd writing- that I have my students write. I am a fervent advocate of literacy narrativesa nd assignt hem in almost all the courses I teach at every level

    For me, literacy narrativesp rovidea sense of students'p riorl iteracy experiences and of their general feelings towardw ritinga nd reading.T hese narrativesa lso offer me insights about potential student resistance to my pedagogicalg oals and approachesf or the class. Students are usually too savvy to come right out and tell me that they don't want to do this kind of reading or that kind of writing. But they will often, in their discussions of past writing experiencest, ell me how and, more to the point, whyt hey dislikea particulark ind of literacyp ractice. Understandingt he sourceo f such resistance allows me to consider how to construct my assignments in creative ways that might engage such students.

    345 Yet many students who do not feel successful as readers and writers think that these identities are the result of external judgments handed down by the literacy "authorities" in their lives. When told at a young age that they can't sing, for example, these students often acceptt he judgmenta s unalterableG. ivingt hem the opportunityt o reconstructt he narrativea nd their identities as readers and writers can at least suggest the possibility that those identities could be different. The possibility of identifying themselves as successful writers and readers is often the first thing students have to imagine to enable teachers to open the doors to more enriching lives in literacy.

  4. Abstract/Introduction One of the pleasures of writing that academics rarely give themselves is permission to experiment.I have brokenw ith tradition here becauseI wanted to documentt he experience of being my own informanta s well as tell a storya bouta white working-classgirl's sorties into white middle-class culture. I began working on the narrative in an effort to recall my childhooda nd adolescente xperience of literacy,a nd kepta t it becauset he more I wrote the more uneasy I became about having forgotten that I had learned to read and write at home before I started school.

    "Writing on the Bias" was written under the influence of all that I remember of what I have seen, heard, read, and written over the years. Yet not one of the thousands of texts that has influenced me is appended in a list of works cited, since no textual authority was summoned to underwrite the telling of the narrative. While I may not have dependedo n publishedt exts, I prevailed mercilesslyo n the generosity of family and friends, whoses upportI gratefullya cknowledgeh erea nd whosea dvicec ontributedto none of the shortcomings of this text: my son Jesse Brodkey, my sister Mary Archer, Mark Clark, Michelle Fine, Patricia Irvine, Sara Kimball, George Lipsitz, Robert McDonell, Susan Miller, Roddey Reid, and Barbara Tomlinson.

  5. Abstract This article examines the “master” and “little” cultural narratives students perform in literacy narratives. Results show that students incorporate the literacy-equals-successmaster narrative most often, yet they also include in little narratives figures such as the hero, victim, and child prodigy. I consider how these findings can improve instructionon this topic and conclude with pedagogical recommendations.

    609 In general, literacy narrative assignments prompt students to explore and reflect on how their past experiences with language, literacy, and schooling inform their perceptions of themselves as writers and literate beings

    610 Because the cultural narrative that literacy necessarily leads to success is simplistic and even inaccurate, it can be characterized as a “master” narrative, which, according to Jean-François Lyotard, is an overarching story people tell themselves about their experiences in relation to the culture, literature, or history of a society (31).

    611 In sum, little narratives “are more restricted in scope, [ are] more contextually bound, and seek to make sense of lived experience in a particular domain” (Sandlin and Clark 1002).

    613 Although the literacy narrative assignments came from five different instructors, they were similar in that they all asked students to reflect, examine both past and present experiences with literacy, explore instances of both reading and writing, investigate several stages in their literacy development, and write an essay between three and five pages in length.

    627 These concepts allow both teachers and students to see that the stories we tell are part of larger cultural conversations on literacy, language, and schooling. We are not alone in our literacy experiences; rather, our stories are connected to and informed by others. By explicitly examining the narratives common to literacy narratives, we can aid students as they compose their own literacy narratives, helping them become more aware of what they are writing and the stories they tell about themselves. They may then more carefully consider how they are represented and what the stories they perform communicate about them.

    629 Overall, we should be deliberate and intentional as we design our literacy narrative assignments, for it is our role to ensure that the process of composing a literacy narrative teaches students about their literate lives and also helps them claim agency for themselves. Making students aware of the master and little narratives of literacy is one step toward these goals.

  6. 166 it is useful to think about who or what underwrites occasions of literacy learning and use

    167 Sponsors are a tangible reminder that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, coercion, or, at minimum, contact with existing trade routes. Sponsors are delivery systems for the economies of literacy, the means by which these forces present themselves to—and through—individual learners. They also represent the causes into which people’s literacy usually gets recruited.

    168 The concept of sponsors helps to explain, then, a range of human relationships and ideological pressures that turn up at the scenes of literacy learning—from benign sharing between adults and youths, to euphemized coercions in schools and workplaces, to the most notorious impositions and deprivations by church or state. It also is a concept useful for tracking literacy’s materiel: the things that accompany writing and reading and the ways they are manufactured and distributed.

    169 But where we find the sponsoring of literacy, it will be useful to look for its function within larger political and economic arenas. Literacy, like land, is a valued commodity in this economy, a key resource in gaining profit and edge. This value helps to explain, of course, the lengths people will go to secure literacy for themselves or their children. But it also explains why the powerful work so persistently to conscript and ration the powers of literacy. The competition to harness literacy, to manage, measure, teach, and exploit it, has intensified throughout the century. It is vital to pay attention to this development because it largely sets the terms for individuals’ encounters with literacy.

    183 Where one’s sponsors are multiple or even at odds, they can make writing maddening. Where they are absent, they make writing unlikely.

  7. 1 literacy myths often assign writers a particular literacy status or label them as “weak” or “strong.”

    literacy myths may limit their perceptions of themselves as writers, restrict the ways that writers engage in writing activities, and limit their writing processes

    the narrow definitions of literacy that writers bring with them to first-year composition courses reinforce ideas about “literacy” as a fixed or static construct—a set of skills to be measured in a single writing event/test or acquired in a semester of a college writing course


    Literacy narratives may provide us with an opportunity to explore changing versions of literacy and writers’ visions of themselves as writers

    I find that student-produced literacy narratives can encourage self-reflective learning and help students develop a sense of critical agency about their literacy practices

    students come to understand literacy learning as continuous and changing, rather than as a static experience that happened in a past isolated event (or has yet to happen to them as writers)


    By literacy I mean socially-constructed, context-dependent, language-making practices including reading and writing. My definition is influenced by literacy scholars such as Deborah Brandt, Janet Eldred, Peter Mortenson, Mary Soliday, and David Bleich, who, in similar ways suggest that language, language use, and literacy are fluid, socially-informed systems that are dependent on rhetorical choices, historical circumstances, individuals’ lived experiences, and particular situations for writing

    Brandt claims that studies of literacy should focus on context-based language making and local histories that shape writers’ everyday writing practices. She argues, “literacy is always in flux. Learning to read and write necessitates an engagement with this flux, with the layers of literacy’s past, present, and future embodied in the social relationships we have with people who taught us to read and write” (“Accumulating,” 666). Along these lines, it makes sense that students’ literacy narratives encourage writers to recognize the potential for change in their literacy development. Also, such reflective writing helps students question previous ways of thinking about their literacy as a static event, or “a time when I became literate.” Instead, writers develop an awareness of their “literacies” in flux, literacy as knowledge-making practices, and literacy linked to change in their lives and their communities.

    I define a literacy narrative as an account of one’s experiences with language and writing in specific contexts, and I see literacy narratives as flexible genres, as fluid and changing as the discourses that inform them. Literacy narratives, I suggest, provide writers with a lens through which they may examine their literacy experiences as critical acts of inquiry. In literacy narratives, writers may be self-reflective and critical of their roles and responsibilities as writers, their writing strategies, and their interactions with generic forms, as they (re)position themselves in the discourses of different genres. Finally, as writers develop a sense of narrative agency by writing literacy narratives, they become participants in the development of their literacy in action. Potentially, as critical agents, writers may be encouraged to write their voices into communities beyond classrooms, and write their ideas into action.

    I ask them to write several self-reflective literacy narratives that accompany each of the genre-based writing projects for the course. I ask them to write about these genres, the rhetorical situation, audience, and their attitudes about literacy in each scenario. Also, I ask students to think about their roles as writers, their rhetorical choices, and the forces that may foster or impede their literacy learning in each writing situation.

    4 I ask writers in my courses to produce literacy narratives that are meta-analyses of students’ literacy events throughout the semester

    5 In their narratives, students identify themselves as writers and reflect on their roles and responsibilities; develop an understanding of literacy in flux and a sense of critical agency in their literacy development; and finally, develop awareness of the potential for their writing to enact change—a “literacy in action.”

    11 Literacy narratives, I suggest, provide a space for writers to examine their literacy experiences as critical acts of inquiry. Instead of viewing literacy learning as a body of knowledge “out there” to be acquired from “experts,” or simply the acquisition of grammar rules, students begin to think of the literacy as fluid and changing and about complex rhetorical strategies. Often, literacy narratives reveal the ways in which writers identify and wrestle with the literacy myths they have accumulated. But these narratives also show the ways writers envision the potential and possibility for their literacy development—ways to move beyond those myths. In fact, in students’ narratives, they use language to describe themselves as active participants in their continuous literacy development. Potentially, seeing themselves as critical agents, writers develop an awareness of strategies for writing their voices into communities beyond their classrooms.

    12 including student-written narratives in our pedagogies shows that we privilege these narratives as genres of possibility—narratives that provide writers and instructors with a rich understanding of literacy in flux and complicate our discussions about literacy and writing. Finally, if we continuously ask students to reflect on their writing as they encounter new genres, contexts or occasions for writing, we show that we value students’ self-reflective writing and the ways it contributes to our conversations on literacy and changes the ways we teach writing.

  8. Assignments

  9. Example from NWP Digital Is

  10. High school

                Your literacy history will outline your literacy development from your earliest memories until now. The goal is to explore and discover insight into the places in your own literacy history where there may be blocks, or you may find great inspiration. This exercise is designed to help you discover the events and experiences that have shaped who you are as a writer.

    Prepare to write an essay called, My Literacy History, using these collected memories. Begin to organize your thoughts in a way that make sense to you. Use a time line, event sequencing or use negative and positives to organize your first draft. Your purpose will be to discover how your personal literacy history has influenced you as a reader and writer today.

  11. Developmental writing: Literacy Narrative
    The literacy narrative is an assignment that challenges the student to develop complete
    sentences and paragraphs into a comprehensive narrative describing their most significant
    experiences with forms of literacy (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) in order to arrive at a
    more full understanding of their unique relationship with and feelings toward such
    practices. Such writing is crucial in both recognizing how one views such practices
    currently, and also in projecting how such practices might inform personal, professional,
    and academic experiences in the future.
    Students w i l l begin the assignment by compiling a list o f significant experiences that they
    have had with literate practices. Next, the student w i l l select an event from the list that
    they feel is of paramount significance, and compose a paragraph in which that experience
    is both narrated and reflected upon. The students w i l l continue this composition by
    describing and reflecting upon additional literate experiences, arranging the composition
    in chronological order to attain structure. The final draft should then be a cohesive
    narrative in which the most significant literate experiences of the author have been both
    described and reflected upon, thereby resulting in a composition that emphasizes
    st-ucture, style, and reflection (which are elements that are crucial for effective writing).
  12. First-year writing
    My assignment is long and detailed but in essence the literacy narrative spans the semester with two or three graded assignments related to this work.  There are weekly reflection journal posts which are typically graded based on completion, but there are two polished reflections turned in that are graded -- one early in the semester and one in lieu of a final.
  13. Some examples of literacy narratives:
  14. Coming Into Language By Jimmy Santiago Baca
    Learning to Read by Malcolm X