Choose Your Own Literacy Adventure (5/5)

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The following is the fifth and final in a five-part series of posts by guest blogger Nancy Pine (Columbus State Community College – Delaware).

Post 5: Literacy Research – Responding Analytically

In my composition classes in which literacy is the course theme, and students choose their own literacy adventure for each major writing project assignment, after the literacy narrative the subsequent assignments engage students in analytical research projects about literacy, culminating with a final reflection.

Analytical Response

For one assignment students read theories from academic and public/journalistic texts related to literacy, choosing one author’s theory to examine closely by applying and “testing” it on the literacy experiences of someone they interview, like a mini-oral history, recovering another’s literacy narrative. Examples of texts that work well for such theories include “Sponsors of Literacy” by Deborah Brandt, “Blue-Collar Brilliance” by Mike Rose, and “Is Coding the New Literacy” by Tasneem Raja.

To begin, students write informally applying the theories from the readings to literacy narratives they’ve read and written so far in the course—including those on the DALN and their classmates’ literacy narratives. In this sense, our class creates our own little class archive of literacy narratives.  

Next, students study interviewing and apply the theories from the readings to StoryCorps interviews that may count as literacy narratives. I provide the following, which work well, but also encourage students to search StoryCorps and find their own: Karama Neal and Judge Olly Neal, which also as an animated short version called “The Treasures of Mrs. Grady’s Library,” Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley, and Tia and Christine Smallwood.

Students conduct their own interviews and begin the task that is challenging for many, not merely agreeing or disagreeing with the theory. Rather, the students are to write analytically, applying the theory from the reading to the interview and to understand both—the reading/theory and the interview subject’s personal literacy experiences—better and communicate that understanding to readers. Such application and analysis of theories and concepts is a transferrable skill across several academic and professional contexts.

Literacy Research Project

In the next assignment, students embark on their own literacy research adventure, studying a literacy topic of their choice or, depending on the course, studying a discourse community like their academic major and/or a workplace or community site. Wardle and Downs’ Writing about Writing reader provides sample assignments, and I share the following published examples of such student work with my students: discourse community of local bikers, literacy in the CNA healthcare profession, and scientific literacy for neurobiologists. Several students often return to their literacy narratives for topic ideas, an issue they wrote about personally but would now like to research.

Final Reflection: Literacy Narrative Response

In their final literacy adventure of the course, students have three options: a self-assessment/self-study of their writing for the course, a rewrite/redo of one writing project assignment and extended reflection, or a reflective response to their literacy narrative they wrote at the beginning of the course. The latter invites students, now at the end of the course, to re-read their literacy narrative and respond to it, seeing the text as a mode of inquiry, knowledge-making, and communication.  

I close this series with Columbus State English 1100 student Christina Solmos’ reflective response to her literacy narrative about The Giving Tree, written at the end of the Spring 2020 term and then published in the Columbus State Writing Center’s journal Et al. Volume IX. It’s called “About 125 Days Ago.”

May we all continue to nurture lifelong study and practice in literacy, as Christina writes, “this part of me that knows I have innately more to learn, to offer, and to give.”

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.