Choose Your Own Literacy Adventure (3/5)

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

Post 3: Reading Literacy Narratives for Topic and Genre

Along with reviewing often-anthologized literacy narratives, to include “HERS” by Perri Klass, which gets students thinking about language and identity in particular professions, students browse the DALN for topic ideas, story/structure elements, and media choices for their own literacy narratives.  

The DALN also serves as one concrete rhetorical situation for the literacy narrative assignment. Several students choose the DALN as their target publication—regardless of whether they decide to submit their narrative—and visitors to the DALN site become their target audience. In this way the DALN helps students early in the course view their writing for our composition class not as a monolithic, self-serving, school-based task—or academic hoop to jump through—but to engage in inquiry and enter a conversation of experiences and ideas around a topic. This is the start of students’ consideration of private/public tensions in literacy: (1) others’ examination/self-study of literacy through narrative and (2) their own rhetorical considerations when composing. 

To prepare for beginning the writing process for their literacy narratives, an activity invites students to search and browse the DALN and read, view, or listen to at least three narratives. While several students select the narratives featured on the home page, others search the site for literacy topics that interest them. Through browsing alone, students realize how broadly they may interpret the concept of literacy. The activity then calls for summarizing and responding to one of the literacy narratives on the DALN they found, connecting with the narrative personally, analyzing it from more of a craft and rhetorical standpoint—as a literacy narrative—and then reflecting on how reviewing that literacy narrative helps them consider composing their own.

Students search for and find a range of different literacy narratives—in topic and approach. The following are only some examples of the literacy narratives students searched for and wrote about recently: personal relationships like mothers and grandmothers; feelings, thoughts, or traits like patience and motivation; significant books like the Harry Potter series; professions like teaching; or a particular type of literacy like politics, financial, and agriculture.

When students complete this activity on our LMS discussion board—and the assignment calls for students to respond to one another—some students report having read (or viewed or listened to) the same narrative as a classmate, but maybe choosing to write about a different one. Or, their classmate’s summary and response and link they provided, prompts the student to read that literacy narrative for themselves even after they have completed the assignment. Students often discuss how they relate personally to the narratives they have found on the DALN—and those their classmates shared—and this supports them in composing their own.

Coming up next. . .Students choose literacy narratives to review on the DALN in varying media, which inspires a revising strategy for their final 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.