Engl 703 – 01
Literacy Narrative – draft #1
Professor Kevin Ferguson
“Do the best you can” were the words I heard growing up, at home and in grade school. Friendly little words I never minded to hear. I had earned As and Bs in high school English classes and teachers seemed to be pleased with my work. I truly believed I was doing the best I could. In fact, I considered myself an excellent student and writer; I worked hard. Therefore, teachers awarded me with praise. I had caring teachers and my education at an award winning high school, in an upper-middle class neighborhood, was top notch; I thought that I was one of the lucky ones.
This I believed until freshman year of college. One morning, during Literary History II, Dr. Hugh handed me back my first essay. It was flooded in a sea of blue ink, from top to bottom, and branded with a blinding ‘F.’ I sat feeling defeated, angry, and I fought back tears. After class, in a huff, I went over to discuss the grade. I fantasized shoving desks and stamping heavily along the path. Inflammatory thoughts flooded my mind: “How dare he,” “I hate him,” “Why blue ink and not red?” No other teacher had ever criticized my work; not to this extent. The F sneered and snickered, his explanation slapped. Dr. Hugh took one long look at me. I didn’t have to say a word. “You can do better and you will do better,” he said. I just stared at him, confused. For the first time, I was being told that I was not as great as I believed to be. This was the first time a teacher gave me a push. Unlike teachers past, he seemed to relish the challenge of saying what others found difficult to articulate. He addressed, explained and offered suggestions to my writing errors. I discovered that I was an incredibly weak writer and reader; I lacked basic skills that were expected among college students. Somehow I slipped through the cracks in grade school. It seems to me that I went to school but was not necessarily educated. I had been one of the kids who made it through school as if traveling on a “conveyor belt” in a system where children are put in at one end and come out neatly packaged with a shiny cap and gown at the other.
That day was a great turning point in my education. I was no longer satisfied by doing the “best I can” because I learned that my work was not good enough. I needed to be better. I was determined to get an ‘A.’
I had so much progress to make and it was difficult to know where to begin. It took almost my entire college career to expose the mistakes I needed to fix and to shed many of my poor literacy habits. I had to fail many times in order to finally win. Unfortunately, not every professor was like Dr. Hugh, who was not afraid to unveil the truth. I could only learn from the mistakes I knew I was making. Dr. Hugh helped me become aware of every next opportunity presented to me.
During freshman year, my experiences in “Introduction to Shakespeare” helped me discover that my writing lacked focus and I wrote weak prose. Daunted by the Middle English language barrier, I was uniquely challenged but determined to succeed. The class was large, the professor, head of the English department, had little time to teach basic writing. He did, however, have plenty of time to offer criticism! The semester ended quickly but I managed to turn the ‘D’s and ‘C’s I earned into ‘B’s in the end. I felt I was on my way.
Expository Writing, during first semester sophomore year, presented a new set of challenges. Although I cleaned up the messy prose, challenges existed in the exciting world of opportunity that opened up for me. Not bound by novels or textbooks, I could write about whatever I desired. I had infinite topic choices at my fingertips; I was really, truly focusing – on everything I could think of all at the same time. I finally chose to discuss the many prophecies of Nostradamus. A five-page essay assignment turned into ten pages, and counting. I only stopped when I realized there was no end in sight. This opportunity forced me to discover the importance of an outline. I didn’t earn an ‘A’, yet I still believed I was on my way.
Literary History I, during second semester sophomore year, helped me shed light on my critical thinking skills. I learned valuable lessons on giving and taking. Lesson #1: After discovering that the professor is not open minded, figure out his theory and critique style, and give him what he wants. Don’t argue. Lesson #2: Take the grade and run – never choose this professor again. I earned ‘C’s and ‘D’s and, finally, when I learned my lessons, some ‘B’s helped raised my final grade. Almost the entire semester went by before I learned to bend without breaking.
During junior year, my confidence was growing. Learning opportunities abounded. Writing for the school newspaper helped me hone research skills. I had written an article on the many benefits of drinking coffee. Although the writing was solid, it was poorly researched; peers blasted me. I dove into a pool of hungry critics, and came up barely breathing. But I was not ready to give up.
Literary Criticism, senior year: Friends who studied English complained how difficult the class would be – they warned that the professor rarely gave ‘B’s, let alone an ‘A’. She would be tough, but I was ready for the challenge. I appreciated her teaching style, her attention to students, and her desire to see them succeed. She was truly focused on teaching writing. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned were ones I picked up among the critiques shared during peer writing groups. Reading other student’s work and hearing feedback allowed me to adopt good writing skills and helped me incorporate what I learned into the design of my own writing style. It all paid off – I truly earned that ‘A’!
My experiences with education duality, of losses and wins, allow me to greatly appreciate my literacy skills today. As a result of the constructive critism I was given in college, I gained an ability to critique myself and reevaluate what I am doing. I wish I could have learned the lesson before college; nevertheless I learned a valuable one. Not all students may be so lucky in the end. Personality, confidence, guidance, and support – they all factor in as well. I am uniquely positioned to fix what is wrong because of an innate “take charge” aspect to my personality. Many good teachers have this special quality.
Good teachers also take the time to educate; not send students on the “conveyer belt” to be sent into the world, unprepared. These teachers critique and share lessons with students that teach them to develop skills; there is always room for improvement. Praising students too often may create a false sense of accomplishment. Sometimes a student needs to hear the bitter truth. Good teachers lack fear; sometimes indirectly bruising a student’s ego will invigorate the spirit and inspire personal growth.
Dr. Hugh’s fearlessness had a great effect on my literacy skills today. Though I am still growing and learning to be a better writer, I think he would be proud of my progress. That day, I did ask Dr. Hugh why he used blue ink. He felt red was too traumatizing to students. Blue is somehow pacifying. What he did not realize is that in any color, an ‘F’ is an ‘F.’
“Literacy is imperious. It tends to arrogate to itself supreme power by taking itself as normative for human expression and thought. This is particularly true in high-technology cultures, which are built on literacy of necessity and which encourage the impression that literacy is an always to be expected and even natural state of affairs. The term ‘illiterate’ itself suggests that persons belonging to the class it designates are deviants, defined by something they lack, namely literacy”
Walter Ong, “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought,” Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook, 19
To prepare for this first paper, we will spend time in and out of class reading, watching, listening, and discussing other people’s narratives of learning to read and learning to write. We will talk about readings and relate them to our own lives in order to engage in the reflective process of creating our own individual literacy narratives. The literacy narrative is an opportunity for you to think about how reading and writing have affected you and why; it’s also an opportunity for you to make sense of yourself as a literate person and to better understand how social and cultural influences have helped to shape that sense. The project is a layered, multiple step, multimodal exploration of how reading and writing factor into your life history and have affected you and your life. We will be writing, presenting, and re-presenting your literacy narratives—each re-vision or re-writing building off of the last.
Confused/Worried/Anxious/Having trouble with what to write about? Visit the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN) and listen to a few narratives to get a feel for how other people tell their stories of coming into literacy…
What is a narrative?
As our course text (GFC) suggests, narratives are stories that we tell; “most narratives present a beginning, where we meet characters and learn what situation they face; a middle, where characters make choices to deal with their situation, invariably coming in conflict with the process; and an end, where the conflicts resolve. . . But narrative essays, like all other essays, usually do explicitly state a point, a claim–a thesis” (109).
What is a literacy narrative?
As described by the reading that we completed from Dan Melzer and Deborah Coxwell-Teague’s Everything’s a Text: Readings for Composition, literacy narrative assignments invite students to “consider their individual experiences with language” (65). Melzer and Coxwell-Teague also draw on a useful definition of personal literacy from Wendy Bishop: “‘the story of coming into language, of learning how to read and write, of learning what reading and writing mean in one’s life'” (65). Thus, a literacy narrative is a first person story about our own experiences with/memories of literacy acquisition and learning. So, your thesis statement will be focused on a specific point that you want to make related to your relationship with literacy (focused specifically on reading or writing). Literacy narratives describe people, places, things (like books or classrooms), experiences, etc. However, do not forget, the purpose of your first-person story about learning to read or write is clearly defined, as in any essay, by a thesis statement or main claim.
Steps in the Process and Assignment Particulars:
- 9/8: Reflective blogging due, aimed at brainstorming toward literacy narrative
- 9/9: Visual Literacy Narratives Due
- a visual mapping that tells your story of acquiring language and learning to read and write–focused on memories, people, places, important events and moments, etc.note: you will use this for your 3-5 minute presentation and also hand it in to me
- 9/9: Visual Literacy Narrative Presentations
- in small groups, 3-5 minute presentation verbalizing the story of the visual mapping that you have created and brainstorming aloud the direction your are planning to take in your written literacy narrative
- 9/11: First (written) Drafts of Literacy Narratives Due
- 2-3 pages, double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, proper format and heading, with title
- bring a printed and stapled copy with you to class (I will be collecting them)
- 9/16: Second (written) Drafts of Literacy Narrative Due (3 pages)
- By 12:00pm (noon) on Monday, September 16th:
- Post your revised paper to your personal blog (as an attachment)
- Post your reflective cover letter (150-250 words) to your blog (detailing what your revision goals were for this draft, how you are feeling about this draft–what you perceive as strengths and weaknesses–any questions that you have, advice that you are seeking, and lastly, what your current plans are for revision concerning the final draft)
- 9/17-9/22: Group Writing Conferences
- We do not have class on Monday, 9/16 so that you will have plenty of time to print, read , and respond to your group members’ drafts and reflective cover letters (remember, even though we don’t have class, second drafts are due at 12:00PM/NOON on personal blogs)
- Before Group Writing Conferences:
- Visit the blogs of each member in your group: (1) Open and print their second draft; (2) Read and annotate draft based on page 143-144 in GFC; (3) Post a response to their reflective cover letter
- At Group Writing Conferences:
- Bring a copy of your paper–printed so that you can take notes based on discussion
- Bring your annotated copies of each of your group members’ papers
- Be prepared to engage in 15-20 minutes of discussion per group member’s paper
- 9/23: Final Draft Due
- 3 pages (typed, double spaced–read above for further format requirements)
- Bring printed and stapled copy to class (I will be collecting them)
- In addition to your final draft, you also need to hand in printed and stapled copies of:
- First Draft (with my comments)
- Second Draft (with reflective cover letter)
- Comp I Grading Sheet (see pages 29-38 in FGC)
- Please hand all of these items in paper clipped together
Note on Assessment
Please refer to the Comp I Grading Sheet/Rubric (2 pages, multiple copies pages 29-38 in FGC) for information regarding how each draft is assessed.
Reflective Leads (to help you get drafting!):
In general, you should be reflecting on: How have past experiences with literacy shaped who I am today as a reader/writer? How have past experiences with literacy shaped who I am today as a leaner?
More specifically, you might consider questions such as these to help:
- What are your earliest memories of reading and writing? In-school? Outside of school?
- What feelings or emotions are attached to your remembered experiences with reading and writing?
- Who do you associate with reading and writing?
- What places do you associate with reading and writing?
- How did you learn to read and write? Where?
- What kinds of materials do you associate with reading and writing? Has this changed over the years? Is it still changing?
- What are your reasons for writing—what causes you to write? How does this “cause” change in different contexts?
- Do you recall any organizations or activities that you partook in that involved writing? Maybe a summer camp? Maybe a workshop?
- What are any significant events that recall that helped to shape your memories of learning to writing and read?
- How do your memories of learning to read and write shape how you think about yourself as a writer?
Of course, other questions/angles might come to mind as you are developing reflections and experiencing a variety of different literacy narratives, so feel free to be creative!