This assignment asks you to write about literacy using your own experiences as evidence for a broader argument. While this essay will be about literacy, you will certainly write essays for other courses and purposes in the future which will require you to use personal experience as evidence.
The purpose of this assignment––which requires you to write about your literacy (i.e., reading and writing) history, habits, and processes––is to help you understand yourself better as a reader and writer. Fuller awareness of your literacy practices can help you develop greater control over them and your learning.
A common definition for “narrative” is that it is a written account of linked events. In other words, a narrative is a story. To compose your literacy narrative, you will draw upon those stories, anecdotes, memories, experiences, readings, and other events and descriptions that allow you to offer readers the most vivid, interesting, and insightful explanations you can about yourself as a writer and reader.
Many of the responses to the assigned readings and in-class writing prompts can contribute to material you may choose to use in your literacy narrative essay. Our course textbook also offers the following questions (some of which you likely have already discussed or written about) as a means of encouraging you to “mine your memory, thinking carefully about where you’ve been and where you are as a reader and writer” (206):
- How did you learn to write and/or read?
- What kinds of writing/reading have you done in the past?
- How much have you enjoyed the various kinds of writing/reading you’ve done?
- What are particularly vivid memories that you have of reading, writing, or activities that involved them?
- What is your earliest memory of reading? Your earliest memory of writing?
- What sense did you get, as you were learning to read or write, of the value of reading and writing, and where did that sense come from?
- What frustrated you about reading or writing as you were learning and then as you progressed through school? By the same token, what pleased you?
- What kind of writing/reading do you do most commonly?
- What are your current attitudes, feelings, or stances toward reading and writing?
- Where do you think your feelings about and habits of writing and reading come from? How did you get to where you are as a writer/reader? What in your past has made you the kind of writer/reader you are today?
- Who are some people in your life who have acted as literacy sponsors?
- What are some institutions and experiences in your life that have acted as literacy sponsors?
- What have any of the readings in this chapter reminded you about from your past or present as a reader and writer?
Analyzing Your Material
The writers of our textbook offer an essential recommendation:
As you consider what all these memories and experiences suggest, you should be looking for an overall “so what?”––a main theme, a central “finding,” an overall conclusion that your consideration leads you to draw. It might be an insight about why you read and write as you do today based on past experience. It might be an argument about what works or what doesn’t work in literacy education, on the basis of your experience . . . . It might be a description of an ongoing conflict or tension you experience when you read and write––or the story of how you resolved such a conflict earlier in your literacy history. (It could also be a lot of other things [emphasis added].) (207)
Planning and Drafting
Calling upon the material you generated through reading responses, in-class writing, and brainstorming, identify the “So what?,” or main point, you want your literacy narrative to convey. You then can use the experiences, ideas, and insights from that material to explain and support the main point you want to make about your own literacy.
As the authors of our textbook point out, “Because your literacy narrative tells the particular story of a particular person––you––its shape will depend on the particular experiences you’ve had and the importance you attach to them. Therefore, it’s difficult to suggest a single structure for the literacy narrative that will work for all writers. The structure that you use should support your particular intention and content” (207).
Thus, there is no formula or template for this writing task. Because you are the subject of your literacy narrative, writing it in first-person makes sense.
As you draft your essay, it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Should I focus on one pivotal event, or should I include an array of related events?
- Should I put events in chronological order, or would a different order be more interesting?
- Should I use dialogue, descriptive imagery, and other narrative strategies to tell the story (or stories) I want to?
- Where should I summarize and where should I go into detail?
- What course readings (or lines from poetry or song lyrics or other creative works) can I quote or refer to that help me make an important point?
- Should I begin my narrative with a traditional essay introduction, or should I begin in medias res?
What Makes It Effective?
As the authors of our textbook also point out, the literacy narrative essay assignment “asks you to carefully think about your history as a reader and writer” (207). Furthermore, an effective literacy narrative essay will do the following:
- tell a story or stories about your literacy history
- identify where you are now as a writer and reader and explain how your past has shaped your present
- make some overall point [“So what?”] about your literacy experiences
The authors add: “The strongest literacy narratives will incorporate ideas and concepts from the readings in this unit to help frame and explain your experiences” (207).
As will be true of all the writing you submit for evaluation in this course, your “essay should also be clear, organized, interesting, and well-edited” (207).
- 3-5 pages.
- MLA formatted: MLA TEMPLATE(6).docx MLA-Format-Guide.png
- Pay careful attention to voice, style, detail, and description, matching these choices to your intended rhetorical effect.
- Use your best “read like a writer” (Bunn) techniques.
- Tell your story very carefully, selecting the right details, pacing, and wording.
- Be sure to connect your story to a larger argument you wish to make about people, circumstances, society, education, language, etc.
- Work towards writing something new, interesting, and relevant.
- Go beyond a re-telling of the story into a construction of an important argument/truth.
Literacy Narrative Scoring Criteria
- Narrative contains moments of compelling argumentation (through explicit reflection or implied through story events) regarding listening, reading, writing, speaking and/or another aspect of language.
- Narrative is sophisticated in thought and communicates unique ideas.
- Narrative contains strategic moments of rich detail and in-scene writing that contribute to the argument and rhetorical effect.
- Key moments of the narrative are evenly and sufficiently developed throughout.
- Narrative is appropriate for an audience of first year writing students.
- Narrative is well-organized with strategic transitions between ideas.
- If outside sources are incorporated, they are done so smoothly to enhance the argument and adhere to MLA guidelines for citation (see me if MLA style does not match the style of your writing).
- Narrative answers the “so what?” question.