In my personal experience as a student, I have encountered many teachers who’ve used a variety of different methods to teach me literacy. In Grade 3, I remember receiving a grammar workbook that required at least 2 pages completed each day. My English teacher would spend the entire class instructing us about the proper mechanics of literacy such as sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, etc. The dreaded workbooks consisted of unfinished sentences that we had to complete with correct verb conjugations and responses in the appropriate past/present/ future tenses. This emphasis on mechanics was perhaps due to the fact that English was considered a second language in the school/country I was living in. Nevertheless, my elementary experiences of learning literacy were very limited in this way.
Then in Grade 8, learning literacy changed for me. I had just moved to Canada and one of my very first assignments was to write my own short story. I almost couldn’t believe it was a real assignment! This was simply because I perceived literacy as showing competence in the mechanics as efficiently, not effectively, as possible. For the longest time, I thought my leisure reading of Archie comics and secret journal writing didn’t count in demonstrating the full extent of my literacy. By being able to write my own short story, not complete someone else’s, I was able to show my understanding, insights, and literacy skills. I look back to that short story with a smile because it ultimately exempted me from being placed in an ESL classroom and enabled me to deepen and expand my literacy.
I ramble about such experiences because I realize how open to interpretation teaching and learning literacy can be. This poses the essential question: How can I effectively assess the differences in literacy among students? In my Curriculum & Instruction course at the University of Lethbridge, I completely had a light bulb moment in addressing this question when New Literacy Studies was introduced and discussed. In Making Literacy Real, Larson & Marsh describe how New Literacy Studies (NLS) help “understand that literacy learning does not simply occur in formal or informal settings, or in or out of school, but also occurs in-between everyday interaction as tools for building and maintaining social relations” (18). This practice argues that it is the role of an effective Language Arts teacher, to show his/her students how learning literacy is a profoundly social process and practice (22) - not just mastering reading and writing skills in the classroom. I felt a strong connection to this with my personal experiences and couldn’t help but ponder on this enlightening practice. In their work, Larson & Marsh detail how NLS can be incorporated in classrooms in the form of readers’ and writers’ workshops that promote students’ autonomy.
Exploring NLS and its impact on students’ literacy learning is definitely a worthwhile practice that I will invest in so that my students can use their literacy to not only excel in my classroom, but to enrich their lives.
Thank you for reading! Feel free to comment or share your thoughts :) Until next time!