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Literacy Experience Excerpts

alesnick's picture

Please add a selection from your first literacy journal entry here.  Also, please respond to at least one post by someone else in your group, and try to spread out responses so everyone is included.


Sara712's picture

Speaking past the first discourse

I began my college career at Connecticut College, which I view as a similar school to Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College in that it takes a critical thinking approach to learning. All three tend to emphasize working towards social justice and equity. Therefore my first Education course during freshman year, Introduction to Education, was an eye-opening experience for me after my somewhat standardized and non-critical high school classes. My Education professor, Professor James, took the time to get to know each of the students and encouraged us to share personal stories when they were relevant to the course content.

            Recent discussions in Education 250 have made me think of this time in my life because the readings by Heath and Jordan brought up such issues as varying cultures in the classroom and a differentiated curriculum. Each student brings his or her own personal history and basis of knowledge to the classroom, which in turn impacts the direction and content of the course. For example, one student in Professor James’ class might mention how she felt limited by her American grade school pedagogy since she grew up in Cambodia, having received such a different experience with learning. This comment would contribute to a discussion concerning shaping the course’s methods and content to accommodate diverse students. 

Siobhan Hickey's picture

Reading for pleasure


From a very young age, “stories” was a big part of my life. I refer to “stories” as a singular noun because it refers to a specific time of day and a specific act that occurred at that time. Every night before going to bed, I would read with my parents. I can't remember the exact order of what happened when, but there were times when my parents would read picture books aloud to me, and there were times when they would read novels aloud to me, and there were times when I would read picture books aloud to them. And then gradually I moved away from this and began to read novels on my own. My mom especially was very conscientious about finding “quality” literature for us to read. I received Newbery and Caldecott award-winning books for birthdays and Christmas. My picture book phase thus consisted not only of “high quality” content but also beautiful illustrations...

When I was very young, getting “stories” taken away was the ultimate loss of privileges. It wasn't so much that it was held over our heads often, but more that it was an incentive to get in and out of our baths quickly. Not even so much reading but a certain culture of the enjoyment of books permeated my childhood. It used to be one of my favorite activities. As I've grown older, I've found that I am slightly fixated on activities that existed in a much more limited way in my childhood world, such as watching movies. Movies were maybe a once-a-week occurrence. I've also fallen away from reading for pleasure. I still do it occasionally, but academic readings, other pursuits (including the new fixations I describe above), and an unexplained drop in my ability to read as efficiently as I used to severely limit my leisurely literary time. I think this development in combination with the values that were instilled in me as a child have created some personal feelings of guilt...

dcenteio's picture

Attention Made Me Read


Growing up in a household with older siblings helps to mature you faster. There is a whole copying period where I wanted to learn exactly what my sisters were learning so I could be just like them or better than them for that matter. Whenever my parents were teaching Heather new skills I enjoyed observing the process and mastering it faster than her. Whether it was putting my shoes on the correct foot, tying up my laces, counting, or writing. As mentioned, Heather and I were not so far in age so usually the skills she was being taught were soon going to be my skills to learn. I thrived in all the attention I would receive from my parents when they noticed how quickly I caught on to things Heather could not and made it a mission to excel and brag about my know-hows and Heathers know-nots. Yes, I was that bratty, attention loving child but I was also very smart and used literacy as power and control over my sister and parents.

Cathy's picture

code switching

I I like to write my posts in a cute little teal journal, accurately labled "thoughts." I wondered what the destiny of this book would be and I'm happy it's this. My entry started with three stick figure photos; the first was me being talked at by a teacher. The second was me talking to an adult and the third was me talking with a peer. The story then described an interaction I had with an older person in youth group. He asked me why I talked like a white person. At the time, that really bothered me, because it made me feel uncool and out of place. So then I would try to use more slang, but it didn't really help my "cool" cause becuase I sounded very off. This led me to think about the different languages I have to negotiate on any given day when I was little. With my mother I would have to speak Spanish, but my Spanish was never really eloquent, and then with friends I would have to use slang becuase my academic English freaked them out, and then with teachers I would have to use academic English. With language, I never really felt proficient with any of the three, but I'm starting to accept that all three of these are very much a part of the person I am today.  

Sara Weaner's picture

Code-Switching in a Dual Language School

I think the subject of code-switching is fascinating. I got to witness the difficulties that children can have with this issue just like you, Cathy. When I was going to school at Connecticut College, I volunteered at a middle school called the Dual Language Arts Academy (grades 6-8). The students were primarily Puerto Rican, so clearly they spoke Spanish fluently and some spoke English fluently (other's weren't quite as eloquent with English). The teachers would teach the classes in English one week, and then switch to Spanish the following week, and continue going back and fourth all year. This allowed the students to more easily transition to learning in English. I would notice that when some of the students spoke to one another peer-to-peer in casual/non-academic contexts, they spoke in Spanish to more easily communicate. However, when it was an English week, they were encouraged only to use Spanish when absolutely necessary in class (if the student could not express him/herself in English) and were then immediately taught how to translate their thought to English. I think this is a very interesting and pretty effective way of teaching language and literacy, as it accommodates for students' cultural backgrounds.

Hallie's picture

A Bob Book Journal

I have decided to try writing my journal entries by hand, for now, because I like the idea of including some illustrations to supplement my text.  Below is a picture of my first entry.  I find it interesting to use an online blog format to present what is a very simplistic page in person, and I think the intersections of these mediums will be generative.  

A quote from the journal:

"Will you play with me?  No, I'm reading.  Why are you reading?  Shh, one more chapter.  Okay...has it been a chapter?  Shh, you should get your books.  No, I cant.  Did you try?  Yes, I tried.  Try again.  Now."

This quote is a scene as I remember it playing out in my childhood with my older sister.  She insisted that I could learn to read on my own--and that she would only want to associate with me if I did.  She thought that I was much too old at 4 to rely on others for reading stories or street signs or labels in the grocery store.  As it turned out, I really did only need the final push.  I sat for at least an hour with my Bob Books, which only presented limited letters at a time, learning to read.  I could read the first set of books by the time my sister thought to ask me how I had fared.journal

kdmccor's picture

I don’t actually remember

I don’t actually remember learning to read.  The first book I ever “read,” was The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, and I think my “reading” could probably be more accurately described as memorization.  I’m sure, like many kids, I delighted in the way the lines rhymed, in the predictable opposition of ‘left’ and ‘right,’ ‘day’ and ‘night.’  I had coerced my moms into reading this book to me so many times, that I eagerly anticipated the turn of each page.  One night, I boastfully announced that I  was going to read the book to my moms, rather than the other way around.  They were intrigued, and allowed me to direct the bedtime story myself.  My mom claims that I had all the theatrical flourishes down pat.  I pointed to the pictures that illustrated the words I was reading, turned the page when I’d exhausted the printed text, and maintained a convincing cadence.  My moms have told me this story of my perfect recitation more than once.  I don’t have my own memory of this episode, but I can imagine myself as my parents describe me.  

I’ve tried to go from this image to my own first memory of learning to read.  I know there must have been a period of time in which I struggled to sound words out, or miscalculated the way the vowels represented by the letters ‘e’ and ‘i’ might sound in written succession, but I just don’t remember my own literary progression.  As far as my memory extends though, I do remember loving books.  In particular I remember loving the way words sounded when read aloud.  Poetry was especially appealing to me.  Apparently, as a five year old, I was so pleased with my own ability to reproduce the rhythms of poetry by reading the words aloud, that I entered myself in a talent show at my family’s church.  I read Something Big has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky.  It goes like this:

Something big has been here,

what it was, I do not know,

for I did not see it coming,

and I did not see it go,

but I hope I never meet it,

if I do, I’m in a fix,

for it left behind its footprints,

they are size nine-fifty-six.

Some of the other folks at the talent show didn’t think reading  was a legitimate talent.  They tried to take my book from me, insisting that I wouldn’t need it to recite the poem.  With an insistence perhaps borne out of the innocence of limited experience, I stood my ground.  I wanted to showcase my skill as a reader, and as far as I remember, that’s exactly what I did.

ckeifer's picture

Reading with Mom

My earliest memory of pursuing literacy is of reading the Harry Potter series with my mom. My mom, who is an educator, adores young adult novels and fell in love with the Harry Potter books as so many other people did. I remember getting so excited to get ready for bed because it meant I would be able to find out what happened next in Harry’s life. I remember when we first started the books we listened to chapters on tape but soon transitioned into shared reading time where my mother would read a couple pages out loud and then I would do the same. I loved listening to my mom read (she was so good at it!). However, I also felt frustration at not being able to read as well as she did.  I stumbled on the words and had to read much more slowly.  I also couldn’t create different voices for the characters as easily as she could.  In the face of this frustration I remember pushing myself to become a better reader.  My passion for the storyline and also my love for reading with my mom truly motivated me to become better at reading and a literate individual. Eventually my sentences flowed more easily and I didn’t have to concentrate as much on reading. I began to internalize the story instead of focusing all of my energy on getting the words out. Never in my life had I connected so strongly with a piece of writing. At some point I began reading the books on my own and when the seventh book came out I read it in one weekend. 

After reading the first Harry Potter book, my love for reading really took off and hasn’t slowed down since then. This experience is so vivid in my memory because it represents how I developed my love of reading and also symbolizes my transition from reading words to internalizing the meaning of a story.  It showed me that words could be exciting and passionate and that it was a social experience I could cherish with my mom.

rschwartz's picture

The teacher cares who's "best"

Before I learned to read, my parents often read to me. When I ask, my mom can still list my favorite books (and recite many of them by heart), and I remember most of the books; but I remember the books themselves—the stories and images they contained—more clearly than I remember sitting with my parents and reading. I began learning to read at home, before I started kindergarten, but I don’t really remember that. I’m told that my father and I began with Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book. I do remember an early reading lesson in kindergarten: the teacher, Mrs. Potter, sat at the front of the class, with a giant book propped up on an easel. Mrs. Potter asked for volunteer readers, and we raised our hands (I think) to read words or sentences. The memory is really hazy now. I remember finding, to my great excitement, that I could read more words than my classmates could—except for the Miller twins, who were already great readers. Mrs. Potter pointed to a word and asked if anyone could read it (for some reason, “monkey” comes to mind). I was disappointed to realize that I couldn’t read the word. Only the Miller twins could read “monkey” (or whatever), and I was incredibly jealous. I was a good reader, but the Miller twins were better. I wanted to be the best reader: to impress the teacher, to make my parents proud. How interesting – now, in retrospect—that even then, as a five-year-old, I had decided that some readers were “better” than others, and that the teacher cared who was “best.”


Serendipitaz's picture

Niches and roles in the performance

An interesting aspect that caught my attention in your reflection is how you remember reading, but not the actual part of reading with your parents (did I interpret this correctly?).  What is interesting is that in both of our early literacy careers, our parents played a very important role. I learned how to write before everyone else in class because my mom would always draw with me. Yet, I wonder what the implications are of what parts of our early literacy we choose to remember. I still remember my mom and sitting down and slowly writing everything.To this day, when I am in a class, I always focus on how my teacher presents the information as opposed to what the teacher is presenting. I personally am a very process oriented individual. When I read this reflection, I focused a lot on the emphasis on impressing the teacher.

We both thought of  having the skills to read/write as part of being on top of the food chain. I wanted to be cool like my brother and you wanted to be liked by the teacher. Perhaps, literacy is a verb, a performance. There is a whole process that goes behind becoming literate. But, the word literacy itself is growing with meaning. For examples, back then you equated reading as a source of power to impress others. But, is that how you still feel to this day? Or, has that feeling evolved with you? If you chose to focus on a different aspect of your early literacy, could you possibly ended up in a different discourse?

Furthermore, I wonder if we have a predisposition of learning a certain way because of our backgrounds (family and/or academic). For examples, earlier today, I was talking to a group of biologists who, in unison, shot me down when I said a 1st generation person is one who immigrates to another country while the 2nd generation person is the one born in the new country (I learned this piece from various social science and education classes). Their response was that anyone who is the first to be born in the new country is the first generation. I personally think the latter should be the correct form, but either ways it got me thinking about how the discourse we identify with shapes our thinking and the space we occupy. Because I was with that group, I didn't argue any further but rather provided examples of the 1.5 generation and other such vocab used by the government. Even though the higher authority had a decision made, the smaller group discussion we had about terminology in our niche caused us to think we are better thinkers than the forms.

So, based on your reflection, you were very comfortable with yourself until the Miller twins came into the picture. Suddenly, you didn't feel like the better student. But, isn't this all a matter of perspective and the discourse we identify with? Were the Miller twins good at reading ALL types of books, or just the particular ones that were assigned in class? Did they focus on something else in their performance that you may not have? For one, I noticed a lot of emphasis on the twins instead of improving the reading skills. As a college student, I still struggle with the performer in me. Every performance has different roles...perhaps the act of reading is the performance itself and the roles we play are our mental states.

Serendipitaz's picture

sorry the above comment is

sorry the above comment is longer than the actual post...

Serendipitaz's picture

Building the blocks, a line at a time

The simplest definition of literacy, I have encountered, is the ability to read and write. However, this definition alone does not capture the process and the higher level connections I had to make when I learned how to write. My mom simply did not make me copy alphabets from the book and memorize their names. Instead, she helped me logically create the structure of the alphabets by remembering the simple shapes that they are composed of. I learned to write with my mom.

I can still remember being a three year old playing with my big brothers pencils. My dream was to grow up to be just like my brother, my dream was to go to school like him and learn to read books. For the early stages of my education, I lived in Bangladesh. My brother and I were privilaged enough to attend English Medium schools, but they were very tough to get into.

My mom’s first lesson, from my recollection, was teaching me how to use a penci, this was even before I started going to school. She didn’t teach me how to write out words right away, but instead she made me focus on how to use a tool of literacy. We drew countless lines together and slowly we drew shapes together. She would make me hold the pencil and draw on the paper. When she would notice me struggling, she would physically move my hand to perform the gestures that allowed me to draw the shapes on the paper.

After becoming comfortable with drawing lines, circles, squares, triangles, etc, I finally started drawing the letters of the alphabets. I say drawing because my mom would first tell me to draw a line and then she would tell me to draw a big belly attached to the line. I drew what was called a “b” and if I flipped it around, it was a “d.” Here my mom used the technique of using my pre-exisiting ability to draw simple shapes to learn how to write the alphabets. Writing was a foreign term for me because grown-ups wrote and little kids like to draw on things they weren't supposed to draw on. I was learning to make connections between things I already knew to things I was learning in an early age. However, knowing how to draw the alphabets was not the same thing as naming them. “b” and “d” were the two alphabets that I struggled with the most when came to recognition.

Practicing my writing skills helped me spend more time with my mom, and also helped me feel like I was entering this new stage of being a big kid like my brother. When I learned how to read the small words, being the conversationalist I am, I began to write "letters" to my cousins who lived out of town. Although I didn't fully learn how to write sentences, I still tried to use what I knew to communicate with others. Oftentimes I would draw certain pictures if I didn't know how to write the word. Nevertheless, through my mother, I learned that literacy is something you have to build upon. With every step, I became better at communicating with everyone.

Cathy's picture

"When she would notice me

"When she would notice me struggling, she would physically move my hand to perform the gestures that allowed me to draw the shapes on the paper."

I like how this directly illustrates the power your mother, or anyone teaching anyone else, how to write can have over the learner. As we discussed in class, in a way, she determined how you drew certain numbers and letters. I don't know how much power there is there, but it is still some sense of control. Not to imply that your mother was trying to make you into some robot who wrote the way she wanted them to, but I do remember penminship/cursive classes and being graded for them. 

           The other part I wanted to comment on about your entry was the connection writing strenghtened with you and your mother. I really like that becuase learning, especially one-on-one learning is so personal. 

kdmccor's picture

Thanks for sharing your story

Thanks for sharing your story of learning to write with your mom!  I loved your description of how your mom tought you to look at letters as shapes and even pictures. Your struggle to differentiate "b" and "d" even though you knew how to "draw" them, speaks to how complicated the process of becoming literate really is.  Once you can read and write fluently, it can be hard to remember how difficult it was to make connections between tracing a letter, and recognizing it again when you saw it in printed text.  

I remember sitting beside my mom as she would write checks to pay bills or solve crossword puzzles at the kitchen table. I especially loved when she would make grocery or 'to do' lists because the writing was easier to read, freed from the confines of 'pay to the order of' lines or tiny blank boxes.   I thought her writing was beautiful, and I hoped that if I copied her lines exactly, my handwriting would be as graceful someday.  Often, If I waited patiently, my mom would print sentences for my to trace and copy.   I would watch her hands and try to hold the pen the same way she did.  I loved carefully mimicking her lines and gestures.  I don't know whether I actually thought of what I was doing as learning to "write," as much as I desperately wanted to make my letters beautiful like hers.  

Sara712's picture

Hebrew School

In class on Tuesday, I discussed both my fondness and my dissatisfaction with my childhood Hebrew school experience. I remember how I enjoyed learning songs in Hebrew, and working on grammar in the workbooks. However, the main point of the classes was to learn just enough of the language to be able to read our torah portions and prayers at our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We learned the alphabet, and several significant words. We also studied the accompanying tunes to our individual torah portions and the general shabbat prayers. Although I cannot now recite my torah portion by heart, I can recite other shorter tunes in Hebrew because the melodies helped me remember the words. Unfortunately though, as students, we did not know what we were saying word for word in these recitations. Teachers explained the general meanings so that we could understand why they were relevant and what they might be praising, but each sentence, besides maybe a few words here and there, was a mystery to me. I do recognize that synogogues typically have neither the time nor the resources to teach students an entire language to achieve fluency in their Hebrew school days. 

I still appreciate my exposure to this second language at such an early age because it has made a lasting impression on me personally. I am now able to recite the Four Questions in Hebrew during my family's Passover Seder, which is meaningful as I am the youngest (the youngest in the family reads the Four Questions). I can also at least recognize different letters and symbols when I see Hebrew anywhere like the media, artwork, or during family holidays. In the end, I believe that my days at Hebrew school have proven worthwhile, and I would rather have some understanding of another language than no understanding at all. 

lesaluna12's picture

Literacy as an ESL/Bilingual Student by Leslie

After reading the task for this assignment, for some reason I immediately thought of the time I was in first grade and my teacher had asked us to pick out a book from the bookshelf, find a place to sit and read it to ourselves. As a first grade ESL (English as a Second Language) and Bilingual student, I did not understand what exactly she wanted us to do with the book. I remember looking at the letters wondering what on earth this could possibly mean. Another memory that popped into my head was how later on during that same year, my first grade teacher would give each of us personal attention on learning how to read, that when my turn came up I remember feeling how frustrated I was because I didn’t know what to do, as in is there a trick we need to learn in order to read?

When sharing with my group this piece of my journal entry I started realizing that my frustration with learning how to read had to do with more than just reading but trying to learn and adjust using a second language, a second culture. As I discussed with my group about this, I remembered how later on that same year in first grade how my class was going to perform Peter Pan and I was given a minor role. I couldn't help but think, why was I given such a minor role? And then I realized, maybe it was because my reading proficiency wasn't up to par with the rest of my peers. If I wanted to be equally proficient with the rest of my peers, I knew that obtaining proficiency in this second language would ensure not only acceptance but survival as well.

rschwartz's picture

"When sharing with my group

"When sharing with my group this piece of my journal entry I started realizing that my frustration with learning how to read had to do with more than just reading but trying to learn and adjust using a second language, a second culture." 

This semester, I'm also taking a course on Children's Literature, and one of my classmates recently sent around this youtube clip -- -- it's a TED talk by Donna Jo Napoli, a writer for children (and a professor at Swarthmore). Donna Jo claims that children need to read about "terrible things." She argues that so-called "unprotected children" (children who face various kinds of challenges, which Donna Jo outlines in the talk) find comfort in books "in which the main character is also unprotected": children "find out they're not alone." Donna Jo suggests that children can take comfort in stories similar to their own, or characters they can relate to. They are glad to read about people who face challenges similar to their own. I am not calling the ESL or bilingual student an "unprotected child." I'm just thinking about Donna Jo's suggestion (and I'm sure many others have argued the same point) that children take comfort in reading about stories or characters that mirror their personal experiences. I'm interested in the notion that, if a child is facing particular challenges, he or she might like to read about characters facing similar challenges.

In your story, English proficiency and literacy seem to represent the divide between your first language and culture and your second language and culture -- you say that your "reading proficiency wasn't up to par," and that "obtaining profiency in this second language would ensure not only acceptance but survival as well." Let me know if I'm misinterpreting your writing, but it seems to me that, from your first-grade perspective, English proficiency stood between you and "acceptance" in a new culture.... If that's true, I wonder if literacy materials could help students who are trying to navigate an unfamiliar language or culture, rather than just representing another challenge for young students to overcome. A bridge rather than a barrier, so to speak? I know there are a lot of children's books that describe immigrants' experiences, or ELLs' experiences, or the experiences of children from particular backgrounds and communities...meant to provide students with the sort of support that Donna Jo describes: characters and experiences the reader can relate to. Do you remember what sorts of books you read in elementary school? (Because frankly, I don't...) Do these sorts of texts actually help students who feel frustrated as they try to adjust to a new language or culture?

Hallie's picture

This is such a thoughtful

This is such a thoughtful reflection on your feelings as a young student.  It shows exactly how powerful the "Literacy of Power" really is--in that you could sense your own frustration toward not having the dominant discourse, and that you could see where you needed to find points of access.  I think the role of second languages will be an interesting topic to explore as we go further in this course.

laik012's picture

Power, privilege and English

Listening to so many students share their earliest recollections with literacy learning has impressed me. The majority had experienced a form of literacy as a state of grace. These events mostly incorporated meaningful contact with words and involving a degree of emotional context to the words. I come from Malaysia with such a different educational system in which reading was not a culture and literature was somewhat unappreciated. Since English was taught at a very slow pace [the third language taught at school] and pronunciation was difficult for most of the students, we frequently practiced how to read. I remembered trying to distinguished the pronunciation of the word “lamp” and “lamb”. These extra English classes did not seemed exciting especially since they were held during the weekends and most of the students were reluctant to be there. However, the fact that the teacher was speaking English with a strong Indian accent made it worse. The grammar sessions and “skills” taught by the teacher were not very effective since it was pure lecture based. The teacher never allowed any students to speak or ask any questions.  This made it worse since there was no opportunity for fluency and creative expression. I view Delpit’s view of black teachers teachings similar to the Malaysian educational system. Despite the fact that skills are necessary for survival, it should be taught through meaningful communication, best learned in meaningful contexts.  Perhaps, one may view that literacy as power is a predominant aspect in countries whose official language may not be that influential such as Malay in my case. To be literate in English was always viewed as an advancement and opportunity for a better job and sometimes better future. 

Sara712's picture

Learning a New Language

I found it interesting to read the portion of your post where you discussed the lack of meaningful and creative activities in your English classes. Although not as extreme, my experience in my AP Spanish class in high school is somewhat similar to your experience. The teacher was determinted to stick to the AP curriculum, and would not stray from the book assignments (which were usually dull and repetitive). We always asked if we could do skits, group discussions, or art projects, and she consistently turned our ideas down. I believe this approach to second language learning (as well as your English teacher's lecture-based approach) is problematic, because it prevents the students from actively engaging with the language in a more practical and relevant manner. Of course there are grammatical trends and patterns in languages that can sometimes only be taught in a repetitive way; however, students need oral and creative means to utilize and practice the language. Literacy involves more than simply being able to recognize and repeat the specific letters and symbols on paper. True understanding that leads one to literacy comes from a proactive approach to learning the language. 

emmagulley's picture

Literacy, Handwriting, and Ownership

From the earliest I can remember, I’ve had some sort of interest in taking my name--myself; my identity--and committing it to paper, in the most perfect penmanship I could muster.  When I was little--truly little--that took on a blocky, almost Aegean quality:  two conjoined, sideways triangle for the E; four vertical triangles for the two Ms;  a single triangle, plus one long, sure, horizontal line for the A, written in determined red marker.  And then, when I thought of an A as an Auh, or occasionally an Aaah, and not as a tepee with legs, I decided that letters were not enough.  I wanted Victoria’s square print that she concentrated on, her head centimeters away from her loose-leaf.  Then I grew tired and my neck grew sore and I decided that I wanted Tessa’s tiny lines, her perfectly rounded dots above half-completed highways.  

Writing my name in the margins of my notebook or on a dinner napkin read as “compulsive” to some people, but there  was--is--something about writing the truth--simple facts--that resonate(d)(s) with me.  People told me not to write in books, but to me, there was something about taking that ownership over one of my properties, and writing, clearly, This book belongs to Emma Jane, that was almost as sacred as reading the book itself.

There is something comforting about seeing your name--not in print--but in ink.  Ultimately, we are our names, and our names are us.  Take the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC--what is more personal, more lasting, and more true than our written names? My parents and I moved out of my childhood home in seventh grade.  We were cleaning out the back cravases of my closet when we saw one last doodle in Apartment 3D.  In one tiny corner, written in secretive thin purple marker, all crooked and determined, was a single sentence that read: My name is Emma Jane Gulley and I will never leave this house.

Siobhan Hickey's picture

I really loved this post!

I really loved this post! There is probably no other single word I think about as much as my name. I am really interested by names and how people do or do not take ownership of the ones that are given to them at birth. As someone whose name is often difficult for people to pronounce, I'm often confronted with the question of "Do I like my name?" For me personally, I do like it. I think this stems partially from the fact that, although it sometimes makes me feel like I stick out like a sore thumb, it connects me back to a heritage of which I feel very much a part. I think that some part of me being able to take pride in the unusualness of my name is knowing that it is not unusual everywhere, like I get to feel big in my difference and not obscured in my difference. This is all from my personal experience with my name and I would be interested to hear how more people relate to their names as something that describes them, as something that is written and spoken, and as something that is or is not related to their relationships with other individuals and communities. 

pamela gassman's picture

I love the idea that our

I love the idea that our names and how we write them help define our identity. By leaving our name somewhere we have left our mark even if no one knows who we are, or what we look like. When I was young I went to a summer camp that had cabins which were graffitied with the names of people, places and ideas. I would always search for people I knew, look under crevaces in attempt to discover a new name or I would find an empty space to leave mine. When I have gone back to find my name, the lettering, the size, and every dimension of how I wrote it, I realized, said something about who I was at that point in my life. My script has continued to evolve, sometimes I change it weekly. In some sense, for me, my handwriting has become a way to trace my identity. It depicts my evolution, my growth from a naive 12 year old who drew hearts around her name to the controlled letters used for taking notes in college,which are absent of any quirky designs. Through writing we are able to take ownership of certain points in our lives, and assert control when we feel we may have none. 

maddybeckmann's picture

Harry Made me Read

I remember being literally enchanted by the world that J.K Rowling described in her books. My mom and I loved Harry Potter and I remember feeling amazed that she loved it too since she was a grown up. As I grew up, so did Harry, Ron and Hermione. I listened to my mom read the stories and felt that I was a part of the wizarding world too. Not only did I read the books, but I saw every movie as it premiered in the theater and waited in line at midnight for the books to come out in the store. Big books no longer scared me and I wasn't nervous to read anything. 

I wonder who else has this experience with a book or group of books when they were young? Is there a way we can engage students who do not like to read with certain books? What is the value of “out of class books” rather than the classics we are told we must read in school? 

emmagulley's picture

I think Harry Potter poses

I think Harry Potter poses such an interesting case study for our generation, in particular.  I'm also taking Writing for Children this semester, and part of what we've spoken about so far is how HP totally revitalized the "young adult" industry.  It was those books that showed that kids were willing and able to read, say, 700 page books if the books themselves were worthwhile.  It's also interesting how we all grew up with HP, so to speak--the "reading level" "increased" as we grew older, too.  

I think the value of "out of class books" is immense, and part of what is so compelling about this case study is just the fact that the series "belonged" to our generation, so to speak.  It became cool to read HP during lunch/recess/free time, and it sort of became a touchstone--something that, at least for a while, almost everyone had in common.  I also remember it seemed like everyone read it almost exactly at the same time--i.e., as soon as it was published, perhaps due to the nature of the "midnight release parties."  (Question:  Did midnight release parties even exist before HP?) 

Re: engaging students with certain books, I remember my third grade teacher tried to use HP as our read-aloud book for a while, and it failed so miserably--indeed, ~killed the magic~--that she didn't finish the book.  I understand the need (from an educator's perspective) to jump onto whatever excited kids when it comes to literacy, but I remember feeling like her decision to read us HP is what took away some of its "coolness."  Furthermore, part of what's empowering about kids with HP is the fact that they can read HP themselves.  In retrospect, I totally appreciate that she tried to revitalize her curriculum for us and tried to teach us what obviously excited us, but I think it would have been a "smarter," or at least more beneficial, pedagogical decision to read us something that related, perhaps thematically, to HP, rather than the exact same text itself.  For example, reading, i.e. "Midnight  Magic" by Avi, could have introduced us to a new author and new form and story--we were already enthralled with HP, so her decision to read it to us simply underscored (yet simultaneously weakened) our already-established relationship with the story.  

pamela gassman's picture

Journal I

I am one of the privileged.

I have breathed out sentences -

And eaten words. My eyes

Were never lonely as a child.

My curiosity was sated

With stories.

This poem is meant to explore the aspects of literacy in my childhood; from a distinct memory I have of my mother reading me Harry Potter to learning how to read on my bed. It examines the idea that I grew up in a home with access and exposure to literacy. 

ckeifer's picture

I was so happy to find out

I was so happy to find out that you wrote a poem and I think it is wonderful! I think it is very telling that so many of us in this class wrote about connecting with Harry Potter. It makes for a very nice example of the power and opportunity that arise from being raised in a home where reading is considered important for pleasure and not merely just succeeding in school.

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