Hey everyone! If you’ve ever taken a class that focuses on writing, you may have heard the terms “literacy narrative,” “literacy biography,” or something along those lines before. Today’s post is going to delve into traditional literacy narratives, what they’re all about, what their purpose is, and how they are really amazing tools for finding out about how you write! There will also be some helpful tips for writing literacy narratives, too!
First thing’s first—what exactly is a literacy narrative?
To make things simpler, let’s start out by defining these two words separately. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) literacy can be defined as “the quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write.” However, there’s more to literacy than that! In the article, “College Writing Tips: Write a Good Literacy Narrative,” Sarah from Letterpile explains that there is a second definition of literacy that covers different facets, such as “professional literacy, hobby-related literacy, language literacy, or many other types of broadened understanding of a subject brought on by its connection to language.” For example, someone who studies music has a literacy in music; they can read sheet music and they understand musical terms, (like accelerando, sforzando, glissando, etc.). Bearing that in mind, we move on to define “narrative,” which, according to the OED, is “an account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them; a narration, a story, an account.”
So basically, if you put these three definitions together, you get a really vague sense of what a literacy narrative is. A literacy narrative is a story about your own experience with writing and reading, as well as your knowledge on a particular subject of your choosing, whether it be music, learning a new language, the story of how you learned to read—anything! In assigning literacy narratives, professors are asking students to take what they’ve learned about literacy development and apply that to their life stories. Depending on the class and the professor, students may be asked to explore stories that include substantial experiences and powerful sponsors, (people,) who motivated them, and to reflect on them.
Now that we have a somewhat solid idea of what exactly a literacy narrative is, you’re probably wondering about the purpose of it all.
Many professors use literacy narratives in their classes because it’s a great assignment for self-examination. In fact, most University Writing courses (UWRT) have some form of a literacy narrative/biography assignment because it helps students learn to reflect on their experiences with writing and reading. Of course, there are many reasons why literacy narratives are popular assignments in first year writing (and other!) classrooms. Here are three examples of how literacy narratives are amazing tools (inspired by the awesome article, “10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World (or at least your writing classroom)”).
- Reflection & Overcoming Resistance: In this article, the author chooses to use words like “exorcism” and “scar tissue;” however, those words seem a little too simple to encompass what literacy narratives can actually do. Literacy narratives offer students a chance to examine past experiences—be they pleasant memories, uncomfortable baggage, voices, scars, etc.—and allow them to write through those experiences. While reflecting on these experiences, some students can then go further and use their writing as a way of overcoming the resistance found in those moments, and in turn, they have a successful product that shows their resilience. Now, I’m not saying that literacy narratives turn classrooms into a “Dead Poets Society” sort of scenario (cue the scene from the movie, “Oh captain, my captain!”) However, assignments like literacy narratives really do give students opportunities to deal with sometimes tough, uncomfortable issues, and that is a great learning experience.
- Connection: When working on literacy narratives, sometimes professors have students work in groups to brainstorm or revise their ideas/papers. This can seem a little awkward at first, (that’s natural!) but working with others and opening yourselves up via literacy narratives can really help students learn to connect with one another. In fact, these experiences working with group members can help students collaborate with others in the future.
- Scaffolding: Not only can literacy narratives be extremely cathartic, but they can also be fun. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s almost blasphemy to say that an assignment can be fun, but it’s true! Compared to other assignments that students have in other classes, a literacy narrative may not be seen as challenging. In fact, many students often take pleasure in literacy narratives because it gives them time to focus on themselves, (instead of the rest of their never ending homework) to reflect, and to write.
Now that you know what literacy narratives generally are and why they are awesome, you’re probably beginning to wonder about how to go about writing one yourself!
Like all assignments, sometimes it’s hard to find a place to begin. Don’t sweat it though! That’s natural and something we all struggle with. Here are some reliable tips to help you tackle any form of a literacy narrative:
- First thing is first: follow the prompt! Everyone has their own different ideas of what a literacy narrative is, so what your professors asks you to write about will ultimately affect where you start and what you write about. Make sure you understand exactly what it is your professor wants you to explore in your literacy narrative and you will be good to go.
- Sarah from Letterpile suggests that you ask yourself some thought-provoking questions to get yourself started. She writes, ““Generate a few topics that are meaningful to you. Ask yourself, what do I want to write about for my literacy narrative? Do I want to write about my favorite book? Do I want to write about writing poetry? Do I want to write about overcoming a big hurdle? List those topic ideas” (Letterpile).
- After you consider these questions, decide what exactly you want to write about. The Norton Field Guide to Writing also offers some great ideas to get you started, such as:
- Once you choose a topic, then you can start to consider other things, like your audience and the story you want to tell!
- The Pen & The Pad also suggests using “vivid details” to help your narrative really sparkle! They also emphasize the importance of reflection, and recommend that you take some time to reflect “on how the event you’re writing about changed or shaped you” (The Pen & The Pad).
These are only a few suggestions to help you begin your literacy narrative. However, there’s no one right way to go about it—what is important is that you take some time to think, write, and reflect on your story. As simple as that seems, it can really open your eyes to how you have evolved as a writer and reader!