English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry — Chapter 2 – Stories of Literacy

Chapter 2 – Stories of Literacy Required Materials

Sample Literacy Narratives


Chapter 2 – Stories of Literacy In Class Activities

Task: The Beginning of Your Story

The Start of Your Literacy Story

Some Important Literacy Scholars

  • Frank Smith: Understanding Reading (1971; Smith was a graduate student at Harvard at the same time Janet Emig was there)
  • Shirley Bryce Heath: Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms (1983)
    • The first composition ethnography
    • Video on Heath’s Work
    • Widely cited in composition literature
    • Helped bring qualitative research methods to the field
    • Gives us a picture on how literacy develops within social settings

Dialogic Questions

  • Morford offers us a rich literacy narrative filled with music and photographs. She helps us to think about literacy development as more than only words. How might you make use of this rich view of literacy in telling your own literacy narrative?
  • Villanueva tells a rich story of growing up on the Block. But then he explains how academic researchers try to understand the language of students of color like him without also understanding the Block. Villanueva sums up the problem of what he calls “academic ignorance” by saying, “‘Round and ’round she goes. Since the question is always, ‘what’s wrong with them,’ the answer gets repeated too: bad language equals insufficient cognitive development” (p. 11). He does say that linguistics researcher Labov did a better job by actually trying to do research with the participants on their level in their environment.
    • Villanueva mentions Thomas Farrell who is an IUP CAL alum
    • Discuss Villaueva’s story and your reactions to it
  • Alshareefy talks about learning English literacy as a struggle between his Arabic mother-tongue and his new language, a struggle that impacted him not only as he read and wrote, but also in the rest of his life. He calls this challenge a struggle for survival:
    • Gaining access into the new academic community was not easy. With every assignment, I struggled to hold back my mother-tongue-intervention, to think of my audience, to include my voice, and to comply with the accepted academic conventions and expectations. I struggled to create sentences that carried my intentions and ideas to the reader without using expressions and syntax that looked similar to Arabic (e.g. saying “laugh on” instead of “laugh at” because the former phrase carries more similarity to the Arabic form or saying “student smart” instead of “smart student” because in Arabic the adjective follows the noun). I struggled to build paragraphs and eventually an entire text in a form that satisfied my readers (professors) and that contributed to my field of study. I believe this was a survival strategy, since I could only succeed in academia through acquiring (without negotiation) the academic conventions of my institution” (pp. 21-22).
    • Alshareefy is currently finishing his dissertation in IUP’s CAL program
    • What are your reactions to his literacy narrative?
  • Moroz traces a number of interesting literacy experiences, including being required to shift from writing with her left hand to writing with her right hand. She then discusses the impact of one of her teachers on her learning of writing:
    • “As an exchange student in 2007, I was taking an AP English class where writing was a key skill to be learned and practiced. Luckily, my English teacher was supportive and helped me to improve my writing. I remember how frustrated I was for submitting my ninth draft, but at the end, it was published in the school newspaper. Looking back, I understand that my AP English teacher did not want to alter my essay completely, but she wanted to see my own self in it. Therefore, I completely agree with Canagarajah (2011) that multilingual writers have to feel the support from teachers by not being afraid to express themselves and their identities” (p. 2).
    • Discuss some of the impacts teachers have had on your literacy development.
  • Lu traces the complex development of her literacy growing up in communist China. She talks about tensions she grows to understand about the use of dominant discourses. She concludes with this idea:
    • “However, beyond the classroom and beyond the limited range of these students’ immediate lives lies a much more complex and dynamic social and historical scene. To help these students become actors in such a scene, perhaps we need to call their attention to voices that may seem irrelevant to the discourse we teach rather than encourage them to shut them out. For example, we might intentionally complicate the classroom scene by bringing into it discourses that stand at varying distances from the one we teach. We might encourage students to explore ways of practicing the conventions of the discourse they are learning by negotiating through these conflicting voices. We could also encourage them to see themselves as responsible for forming or transforming as well as preserving the discourse they are learning” (p. 447).
    • What do you think of Lu’s story and her idea for teaching composition?

Story Assignment: Literacy Narrative

  • Begin writing the first draft of your Literacy Narrative

Chapter 2 – Stories of Literacy Optional Materials

Literacy Narratives Published by IUP Alumni Scholars

Narrative Writing Technique: Thick Description