Academic journal article Composition Studies

From Story to Analysis: Reflection and Uptake in the Literacy Narrative Assignment

Academic journal article Composition Studies

From Story to Analysis: Reflection and Uptake in the Literacy Narrative Assignment

Article excerpt

The literacy narrative assignment, though certainly not new, has gained in popularity in recent years as more scholarly research on the genre has been conducted and as more composition textbooks have begun to include chapters, readings, and assignments on the genre.1 In general, the classroom-based literacy narrative assignment asks students to explore and reflect upon their past experiences with language, schooling, education, and/or learning to better understand how these past encounters have formed them into the literate beings they are today. These literacy narratives also attempt to chart the writer's processes (Carpenter and Falbo; Ryden; Scott), reveal what happens when the writer acquires written and/or spoken language (Soliday), and act as sites of "self-translation" (Soliday 511). Literacy narratives are "not simply stories about learning to read and write; they are attempts to define who we are and what we want to become, both as individuals and as a community" (Young 26).

A major commonality in the research and in textbooks is the importance placed on reflection in the assignment. Richard Bullock's chapter on the literacy narrative in The Norton Field Guide to Writing, John Trimbur's literacy narrative assignment in The Call to Write-, and Duane Roen, Gregory R. Glau, and Barry M. Maid's The McGraw-Hill Guide are full of injunctions for students to "reflect." Likewise, in Joining the Conversation, Mike Palmquist includes two literacy narrative assignments in his chapter "Writing to Reflect," and Thomas Deans' assignment asks students "to adopt a self-reflective posture" (27). Other textbooks imply an expectation for reflection when they ask students to examine the "significance" of their experiences (Kutz; Ramage, Bean, and Johnson; Yagelski).

In addition to textbooks, in their scholarly work, both Wendy Ryden and Stephanie Paterson describe reflection as a major goal and assessment measure of the literacy narrative assignment. Ryden argues that the literacy narrative is a "metacognitive genre" concerned with students' reflections on the process of becoming literate (86). Paterson similarly notes that in literacy narratives, students "reflect both consciously and maybe unconsciously about emotional, intellectual, and social benefits that are accrued through literate practices," and she hopes students will use literacy narratives to "reflectively examine the structures of their [literate] expression" (3). I, too, have found in my own research that reflection is a primary goal of literacy narrative assignments. In a survey I distributed to one hundred instructors who assign literacy narratives, reflection was ranked as the most important purpose of the assignment (out of 10 options) and the second most important evaluation criteria (out of 32 options).2 In diverse composition circles, then, reflection is viewed as a goal and assessment tool of the school-based literacy narrative assignment.

Reflection is a major goal of the assignment because of the purported outcomes fostered through the process of reflecting, including increased self- awareness as writers, readers, and thinkers (Ryden 85). Scholar-teachers argue that reflection in the literacy narrative can cultivate:

* A greater sense of self-awareness about one's literacy processes and experiences (Brown 403; Carpenter and Falbo 25; Fox 19; Paterson 57-58; Sandman and Weiser 21; Scott 111; Soliday 511; Webb 33; Williams 343).

* Critical analysis of schooling, education, and sanctioned notions of literacy, discourse, identity, and the "literacy myth" (Brown 403; Eldred and Mortensen 513-14; Franzosa4l0; Paterson 8-9; Scott 112; Soliday 520; Young 9).

* Examination into social, cultural, and political issues involved in acquiring language (Clark and Medina 69; Eidred and Mortensen 52324; Pratt 34; S. Rose 245; Young 112).

* Ethnic and cultural understanding and diversity (Brodkey 139; Meyers 4; Soliday 511; Wallace 435-36; Young 7-30). …

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