Choose Your Own Literacy Adventure (2/5)

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The following is the second in a series of posts by guest blogger Nancy Pine (Columbus State Community College – Delaware).

Post 2: A Literacy Narrative Assignment: What and How? 

Whether our study of literacy in our first-year composition class is an informal writing assignment, writing project unit, or the course theme, students compose their own literacy narratives. This is one way for students to examine some of their prior knowledge in literacy based on a particular personal experience—or literacy event, a snapshot of a literacy adventure—they have had.  

Especially when the literacy narrative is a formal writing assignment, as they engage in the writing process, students not only decide what to write about—which personal literacy event to narrate—but also how to best achieve their purpose and rhetorical effect. Students choose their own rhetorical situation (within a college or professional discourse community), deciding their specific purpose, who can best act on that purpose, and then in what form or genre to compose for their chosen purpose and audience.

I guide students through examining potential rhetorical situations, to include genres, for how to meet the assignment expectations for rhetorical awareness, focus, development, organization, and conventions, while achieving their purpose with the project. For example, students may choose a more literary discourse community, opting for targeted publication in a journal or magazine. What will readers expect in such storytelling? Profession-minded students, who wish to explore real-world applications of personal narrative writing, for example, may find a job description for their dream career and compose their literacy narrative as a job application letter, framing their personal literacy event as the value they will bring to an organization. What level of formality do professionals expect in this field or a broader business context? Students interested in the sciences, for example, may decide to conduct their literacy narrative as a self-study—examining past or current data of a literacy event—writing up the experience as a scientific report in IMRD structure. How does one narrate such a literacy experiment in such a formal report?

The North Dakota State University Center for Writers “Genres/Types of Documents” website is useful to introduce students to the variety of genres used in academic and professional rhetorical situations. This document I created shows students how to read a sample text as a potential genre for their literacy narrative writing project, specifically a self-study research report.

In composing their literacy narrative with a rhetorical situation in mind, students are already practicing and applying literacy concepts from rhetoric and composition to their class work and developing the metacognitive habits of mind to transfer writing skills and knowledge across contexts.

Coming up next. . .The DALN also provides students as a concrete rhetorical situation for literacy narratives.

Nancy Pine is an associate professor of English at Columbus State Community College, Delaware Campus, where she teaches composition courses. She is the author of the Open Educational Resource (OER) Writing in Context and articles in publications including Teaching English in the Two-Year College and the Journal of Basic Writing.