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Each week, 1-2 people will curate the ideas and writing from our class into a featured blog. We will use these blogs to connect with colleagues outside our course.

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Ramblings on Literacy

Ramblings on Literacy

The first thing to understand about literacy is that it is complex. It is more than what first comes to mind when the word “literacy” is uttered. It is certainly more than reading and writing and any “standardized” or “idolized” ideas about what is included in those practices.

A lot of my understanding about literacy has been guided by my privileged access to information. Reading has always been such a big part of my life. Two things from my childhood really stand out as being really concrete parts of my personal literacy foundation. Once, when I was six I was a dollar short of a book I wanted at Walden Books. It was at this moment that my father taught me about what an advance was and he gave me one on my weekly allowance so that I could get that book. Another thing that was a more consistent literacy practice was that my father used to take me with him (assuming I had all of my homework done) to his weekly college study nights at Borders. It was always just him and I, my sister never tagged along, and I would spend the whole time browsing through the books. I still keep up this tradition and you can usually catch me at the bookstore at least one evening a week, browsing through the books as a reward for getting all of my homework done for the day. Talk about conditioned, thanks Pavlov. This is also something that has continued to be a thing my father and I do together when I visit him. My father has definitely been a key player and one of my primary literacy sponsors.

My literacy practices have evolved throughout the years. Although I still use book browsing and fun reading as a reward for getting my reading done, I have a more immediate reward system with my graduate school work, using skittles or other small candies to reward myself when I finish certain passages. I’m totally on some sort of Jane McGonigal level with my schoolwork.

skittles

I think one of the reasons that I have never had an appreciation for “conventional” and “standardized” writing styles is because of my prevalent access to reading materials and parents who encouraged creativity and rebellion. Although I would say that I am attuned to a “standardized” version of English, I’ve always been open to how different ideas and reading experiences shape our worlds. I’ve always been interested in how literacy practices affect someone. I remember watching a video on DNews (is that still a thing?) which discussed how your orbital frontal cortex swelled when you read, causing it to expand over time and strengthen your capacity for empathy.

I’ve talked a lot about literacy in terms of reading, but not so much in terms of writing. My writing practices are also pretty unique and personalized to me. Although reading is my number one love when it comes to literacy, I’ve always used writing as a way to cope with struggles. Currently, I have a blog titled “Academic Fails” that talks about my “fails” throughout grad school. It’s something that helps me laugh at myself and the clumsy situations I have throughout the day while helping me document certain aspects of my life.

Maybe it’s just with the frames I’m reading with, but I feel like a lot more of our reading is geared more towards writing. George Lakoff did state, however, that “Mental structures that shape the way we see the world.  As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act” (Lakoff, 2004) which I think is a very apt way of defining just about how everyone sees literacy, too. I think this plays into the idea that educators and students are often taught that there is a “right” way to read and write. Research from Dyson and Smitherson, speeches from Adam Banks, and blogs from our very own Chico State students help to disprove this idea. I am really interested on seeing how we can incorporate bidialecticism and bilingualism into our education practices and help students feel valued for the literacy practices that they have outside of the classroom.

Speaking of being outside of the classroom, literacy is a social practice. I recently learned in my linguistics class that school age children learn about 3000 distinct new words per year. This equates to 17 words per day. Only 400 of these words are learned in school. That means that 2600 words (85%!) that school children are learning a year come from outside of school. A lot of this is through incidental learning, which includes communicating with adults and the reading they do outside of school. Their vocabulary is often being shaped by their culture, lives, interests, why can’t we expect the same with their writing?

Something I found really fascinating was when Dr. Erin Whitney visited our class and talked about her research with Dis/Crit studies. The students she worked with were amazing and blew me away with their ability to use words as rhythmically as they did. Even still, they are seen as not being at the same level as other students because they don’t fit into some mold that has been deemed as the “standard” for literacy skills.

I’m really interested in accessibility to different literacy practices and how we can incorporate different social and cultural practices into our schools to better include and incorporate students’ personal experiences. How can we create a system where they are valued for their practices, especially in cases of bidialecticism and bilingualism and when their practices are so cool outside of education but they just don’t fit into this predetermined mold? How can we create an education plan that is taken seriously enough to get funding? How do we help our own students see the importance of their literacy standards and help to break them of the conventions that have been drilled into their heads since day one of “standardized” schooling? How can we help them to see that they are not defined by tests or what their grades are? How can we break them of thinking that they are “just not good at writing?”

Another thing that I am really interested in that ties into literacy being a social practice is digital literacy. The spread of information and a need to stay up-to-date on different topics within a social setting is encouraging people to read different texts and write different commentary and understand different situations.

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