We focused on the shifting literacies and sponsors at play in each text, but also examined more closely the rhetorical elements used to make these texts compelling.Then came time to introduce the literacy narrative assignment: in 4-5 pages, the students would focus on one/more key moments in their personal literacy development, as well as the people who had helped or hindered their process of acquisition.This is an archived version of the assignment, which I’ve since transformed into a Digital Storytelling project.
We focused on the shifting literacies and sponsors at play in each text, but also examined more closely the rhetorical elements used to make these texts compelling.Then came time to introduce the literacy narrative assignment: in 4-5 pages, the students would focus on one/more key moments in their personal literacy development, as well as the people who had helped or hindered their process of acquisition.
In this context, we talked about “exigency” – the purpose or main idea that the student is trying to convey – and audience expectations. While some students struggled to find a central moment around which to develop their narratives, resulting in fairly generic essays that would need further revision, many showed a good understanding of literacy and sponsorship, and were able to create nuanced interpretations of these concepts.
A significant number of non-native speakers wrote about their efforts to learn English, often demonstrating frustration with the insufficient resources available to them in public education.
The process I used Deborah Brandt’s concept of “sponsors of literacy” as the framework for our discussion on literacy acquisition, the circumstances and participants that can hinder or foster it, and its larger implications in an individual’s personal and professional success.
In her 1998 article “Sponsors of Literacy,” Brandt argues that our literacy development is dependent on our access to “sponsors of literacy,” whom she defines as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, or model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy – and gain advantage by it in some way” (166).
In preparation for our discussion in class, I had the students read the essay at home and write a response journal highlighting five quotes that they had found particularly interesting, confusing or that they agreed/disagreed with, and then write a short comment explaining why they had picked them.
This was a low-stakes assignment meant to engage student and theory.Second, it asks that the student engage with creative literary devices such as dialogue, description and narration, before they have to start dealing with them when analyzing another author’s work.Finally, the personal narrative makes them comfortable with the use of first person and allows for a conversation about the use of objective and subjective perspectives.The specific guidelines were as follows: Once I had explained the assignment, it was time to start writing!In class, I asked the students to write about a skill they had developed and the person who had helped (or not) in the process.In order to explore what we can learn about the complicated nature of gender identity and sexual orientation through personal experience, we will read a selection of personal narratives, from and other sources, and we will watch several documentaries that explore the lives of those who cross the gender boundaries.We will also use a variety of strategies to explore our own personal experiences, past and present.We looked at the way the lack of racial diversity and a sociopolitically stifling educational environment can hinder one’s writing development in Junot Díaz’s “MFA vs.POC.” Then we read an excerpt from David Sedaris’ , where the writer describes his efforts to learn French in spite of an abusive teacher.And while I am constantly updating my syllabus to reflect recent events and debates, students’ varying skill levels and my own pedagogical growth, one assignment I’ve been reluctant to give up is the personal narrative.I often have students narrate a conflict they have experienced in the past and consider the ways it has influenced or shaped their identities. First, the personal narrative provides a creative start to the semester: it’s an informal assignment that doesn’t usually require the conceptual heavy lifting of literary analysis, for instance, because it focuses almost entirely on the student’s own experiences.