Connected Learning

Literacy in Our Lives


Rebecca Rupert shares her teacher inquiry exploring what happens when high school freshmen and pre-service English teachers communicate via media about what they see as their identities as readers and writers? Originally published on October 15, 2011

What happens when high school freshmen discuss “reading,” “text,” and “identity” and are given Flip cameras to communicate to a methods class of pre-service English teachers what they see as their identities as readers and writers?

“Literacy in Our Lives” as an activity grew out of the “Motives for Reading” Unit in The Teachers’ Strategy Guide: Reading in a Participatory Culture” created by Henry Jenkins‘ MIT Project New Media Literacies team.  In 2008, I (and other teachers) piloted The Teachers Strategy Guide in the classroom.  I had lots of assistance from Indiana University Learning Sciences researcher, Dan Hickey and his team of graduate students as I taught the activity.  Michelle Honeyford, then a doctoral candidate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University, wrote up a lesson plan for “Literacy in Our Lives,” and I taught the activity several times in various settings.

In my freshmen American Studies New Tech classroom, I used the “Literary in Our Lives” activity for two purposes:  I wanted the project to build community among my students and their college student mentors in a quick and meaningful way, and I wanted all participants to reconsider how multiple literacies shape their lives and identities.  It was my hope that my students could further recognize that the strategies they used to interpret and understand the world outside of school might also be useful strategies for their reading of school-related texts.  And I wanted to give the Indiana University students who were assigned to my class as writing mentors some idea of the rich literacies students bring with them into the classroom. The activity accomplished these goals nicely.  What really surprised me, though, was how I’ve come to think differently about reading and writing.

Community Building

One of the exciting benefits of the activity was that it placed students in position to get to know and begin to understand both their peers and their IU mentors (with whom they’d later be sharing their writing). Building a classroom community meant more than just expecting that all participants would work together productively in the groups within which they were placed; it meant encouraging everyone to understand each other’s backgrounds and trusting each other enough to share writing, ideas, and even mistakes. The activity allowed for the building of collaborative work and contributed to richer social and individual learning for all participants.

My students and their mentors in the “Literacy In Our Lives” activity shared who they were as readers and writers–inside and outside of school–and intimate details about themselves, including the ways they lived their lives and the ways they viewed knowledge. My students also reflected on their video production after they had completed it and discussed the process by which they had created their videos, the ways the project accomplished their goals, and the ways it fell short. The reflection further helped my students and their mentors begin to respect each other and fostered a trusting community from which we all benefited throughout our time together.

Identities as Reader and Writers of Texts

As students thought about reading as interpreting text, writing as making meaning, and text as anything to which they might ascribe meaning, and as they talked about these concepts during their planning and videotaping, it was gratifying for me to watch them increasingly identify themselves as readers and writers. Later in the semester, students had some background upon which to build as they explored and made meaning around the sometimes difficult texts we read together. But by this time, they were already thinking of themselves as readers and writers, and they had strategies they’d used before that might be of help to themselves and their peers.

Bee Foster, in her Digital Is resource, “Redefining Texts,” expands this idea of “text” in a similar way, and asserts that multimodal creations are texts can be read (interpreted) and written (created).

The “Literacy in Our Lives” activity helped me build community among my students and their pre-service teaching mentors. It allowed us all to consider how multiple literacies shape our lives and identities. And it allowed us to tap into and celebrate the rich out-of-school literacies that go into creating our identities.  As a result of teaching this activity multiple times, I’ve come to look at digital and multimodal texts as forms of writing that require ways of reading that have some processes in common with reading print-on-a-page, but also go beyond this in significant ways.  And this, I feel, has implications regarding assessing digital and multimodal writing.  My work with the NWP Multimodal Assessment Committee this past year has provided me with a framework and a starting point to think about assessing this kind of writing, and now what I want to do is explore some practical applications of the framework by using it to assess the multimodal and digital writing that I have my student create.