What Literacies Do Students Bring to the Table on Day One?

So I’m thinking of doing a pilot study.

I’ve surprised myself at how quickly I’ve already altered my thoughts on approaching my teaching next year whilst starting this doctoral program. My pilot study has been inspired by two points of interest in research I’ve reviewed so far: collaborative writing and alternative literacies.

Collaborative writing grabbed my attention immediately due to my extensive belief in and practice with PBL (project-based learning). My initial research both supports my preconceived notions of collaboration in the classroom as well as complicates, or even problematizes, its practice in the classroom. For instance, as long as we continue to posit that the teacher is the center of all learning in a classroom and retains all authority, then writing in collaboration cannot happen, nor can it help students with their traditional literacy skills. So I agree that we have to get the classroom more student-centered as you must do with PBL, for instance, but I also acknowledge that a fully student-centered classroom if a hard sell as well as difficult to navigate at times. Still, my interest in the pros and cons of collaborative writing has also forced me to reconsider my views on literacy.

Since I was an undergraduate student, I’ve been told about literacy. I’ve been told that literacy’s very definition is always morphing and recognizing new literacies emerging is vital. Before this summer, I had continued to think of literacy as a box of skills we as teachers must stack into our students’ minds. In other words, it’s our responsibility and our teaching and our knowledge that makes these literacies happen. But that isn’t really true is it? My point here is we are far too often ignorant of the literacies students already have and bring into a classroom. We’re simply not giving any credit to what students already know. It isn’t that research doesn’t support these literacies or even promote them, but rather most teachers are simply ignorant to the thought process that they have the option of recognizing these literacies.  I know, for one, that I have not always been so aware of the literacy a student brings into my classroom.

Here’s my question: what literacies are my students bringing into my classroom that I haven’t noticed or given credence to before? Can they write raps? Can they write music and lyrics? Can a student draw and storyboard a comic strip? Can a student manipulate multimedia sources? This is what I want to find out. What I want to know more than even these concerns is can these literacies be used legitimately to inform language arts writing instruction?

Cool, huh? Maybe it’s just the English nerd in me, but this to me is worth studying.

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