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Ed 250: Literacies and Education

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This is the online community conversation and resources space for Education 250: Literacies and Education, a course in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program taught by Professor Alice Lesnick.  Please feel free to join us -- via individual and course blogs and mico-blogs (via Twitter) -- as we explore literacy learning as a process of ongoing personal, cultural, and political negotiation and invention among and across people’s ways with words. The focal contexts of our studies will be the U.S. and West Africa, specifically Northern Ghana, where some of us will travel over spring break as part of the interdisciplinary cluster of courses making up 360: Learning and Narrating Childhoods.  


Course Syllabus

About the Learning and Narrating Childhoods 360

Twitter feed

About Titagya Schools and Ghana

Titagya Partnership Blog


Class Trip Blog



Interactive Blogging: Reflections, Connections, Questions, and Information

alesnick's picture


Please join us here to read and exchange about the journey our 360 Program, "Learning and Narrating Childhoods," is taking to Ghana over spring break.  We are 16 undergraduate women from Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, two faculty members, a Bryn Mawr College alumna, and two colleagues from Northern Ghana's Titagya Schools.  Our destinations are Titagya Schools, in Dalun, and the University of Ghana, Legon, near Accra.  We will be learning with young learners, teachers, community members, university students, and faculty.  We are exploring how languages, lives, and futures interact as children and communities grow and change.  

This picture is from our joint field trip earlier this semester with Parkway West High School students to UPenn's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology's "Imagine Africa" exhibition.  There we explored and interacted with representations of the continent in order to participate in a renovation of the museum's exhibition of African art and technologies.  Now as we set off to visit and volunteer in Ghana, will will continue revise imaginings with new experiences and future possibilities.

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Learning and Narrating Childhoods Retrospective: Learning from Our 360 Final Projects (Prezi format)

INTRODUCTION:  What does it mean to visit an African country with a class from a US college in order to learn?

Alice Lesnick, Term Professor of Education, Bryn Mawr College

July, 2012

360: Learning and Narrating Childhoods (Spring, 2012) was a cluster of three courses, one in Education, one in Literature, and one in Psychology.  15 Students from a broad range of majors, years, and backgrounds undertook a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural study of child development, with a particular focus on the role of language and literacy in forming and channeling personal and group identities.  

HannahB's picture



Screen into the world

What pages are we all on?

Tools for creation




Power, access, tools

They are useless by themselves

Do you have the tools?



What blocks your pathway?

Barriers to creation

You make the meaning

abeardall's picture

Cultural Capital Tool Kit

Tool kit cultural tool kit


Media can be our windows and our barriers

Filtering out undesirable images.

Keeps things in and Keeps things out

Sanitized and pristine

Cultural toolkit used to unpack

Dominant discourse and

Screen Racial profiles.



Turn the PAGE.

Start with a blank page

So we can get on the same page.

Same page.


-Brittney and Amanda

allisonletts's picture


When we read, the Learning
curve is really Important; after all,
Access works both ways, the text as
A veil
We touch and manipulate, we
Turn a page of the
Stars of a constellation.
To be of use, here, we are
Building and
Learning. Leaning on
Generational differences, our own Urban dictionaries.
There are
endless opportunities, but
the supplies are not
endless. Access to resources,
Different resources for different tasks,
Cultural capital, these
are the problems we face.
It’s the Danger of a single story:
reading and co-creating and becoming


By Emily, Julia, Manya, and Allison

JBacchus's picture

Class Glossary

I was looking through this serendip blog (all the way back...) and thinking "this is a literacy class"...if we were to make a class glossary and define these terms, what terms would we choose? How would we define them/choose these definitions? Would there be multiple definitions?

I thought of this when I was still trying to figure out in my head how to define "literacy" - finding a definition for literacy was also part of my goals for my midsemester evaluation. I also thought of this when I was looking through the Gee reading,  remembering that I really didn't understand any of the terms - primary discourse vs dominant discourse, secondary discourse, literacy - because I felt he was using these terms to define his terms.

Class thoughts on this?

allisonletts's picture

Continuous reflection, and other goals

I have a few goals for the end of the semester:

  • I've been reading a lot of teachers' blogs lately, and I really want to get to the point where I blog about my experience as a personal reflective tool. I assume that most of the teachers whose blogs I read were not told that they had to blog, and it seems like a great way of processing your experience whenever you have time. I've seen similar things happen on twitter with #edchat, #ntchat, and #1stchat, but blogging can just be a record. For the rest of the year, I'm going to try to do a few shorter blog posts when I have things to say instead of gathering them all up at the end of the week.
  • I want to continue working through my narratives in Literacies of music, tech, and linguistics.
  • I want to engage more with the class community in Literacies--on twitter, here, and in person. I know that I've been spending a lot of my time looking out to the world through social media for this class, but I think more intra-class communication would help me grow more.

I'm thinking about using Storify to tell my thrice-told tale once. What storytelling method are you excited about?

kwyly's picture

Whose story is it?

After reading Thrice Told Tale and discussing the importance of different retellings of the story, I wanted to further investigate the process of documenting a story. In the case of this collection, this story was chosen to be told by people outside of the community. As we discussed in class, community memebers did not express interest in telling the story of Mrs. Tan. Researchers outside of the community decided that this was a relevant story to tell; based on its appeal because of drama and suspense, it makes an interesting story to write about. Readers of these accounts have three different ways of thinking about Mrs. Tan, but all three stories relay information that presents an image of chaos and community disruption. Mrs. Tan's story is probably not the story that memebers of this community would want to share with others. This incident does not represent the entire community and is not a way of sharing stories that represent a more accurate and informed picture of this society. Researchers, writiers, and other documenters enjoy positions of power because they allow themselves to enter an existing community or situation and choose what they would like to write about. They can afford to write what they want and express what they see because often, they are not the ones who put a part of their identity on the line for criticism. Although maybe others disagree with the way Margery Wolf documents the findings, what readers focus on most is the content of the stories.

ckenward's picture

Hunger Games and Race

Last weekend (opening weekend) I went to see The Hunger Games in the theater.  I had read the books while I was in India and my friends and I had long been awaiting the release of the film.  However, this isn't really a post about the Hunger Games... I'm more interested in the dialogue on the internet about race in the Hunger Games and thinking about how well it connects with some of the themes we've talked about in class.  

For those who haven't read the Hunger Games, or have no idea what I'm talking about when I say "race in the Hunger Games," I'll try to briefly summarize the issue.  The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy and tells the story of a dystopian future where the government forces each of twelve districts to give up two of its children (a boy and girl) to fight to the death.  Not a great description, but that's the basic plot.  So in the movie, three of the characters were cast by black actors and apparently this is an issue for some people which they have chosen to express freely on the internet.  In the book, two of those three characters was described as having "dark skin" and the third was not described racially at all.  

bsampson24's picture

Resistance and Agency

Since Tuesday’s conversation, I have been thinking about what it means to be an n effective change agent and ways to challenge the system/dominant social structures. It just dawned on me after class on Tuesday how linear and ineffective my approach has been for my desired objective.  Before class and for the last four years, I believed that in order to disassemble the system you must first situate yourself in a position of power within the system. And then, only then, can real change occur through top down processes.   But that’s such a contradiction. Following the rules and guidelines of dominant discourse to mobilize upward and move into power only validates the system I would try to disrupt. If I use the system to mobilize into position of power, I am only reinforcing the idea that this very elitist and exclusive pathway is the only way to create change.  I have disregarded my agency.  Going into interviews I can wear whatever I want or talk however I want  to demonstrate I am still qualified for the position regardless if I conform to standard conventions- superficial conventions used to divide and exclude. They are not real indicators of the skillset, intelligence, work ethic etc.  I encourage others think of ways in which they can resist the system, without completely sacrificing their ethics or objective to advocate for change.

juliagrace's picture

Misunderstandings/ False Images

Not to destroy anyone's fond childhood memories but The Lion King is not Africa. I know some people are thinking "Duh" and I used to think that went without saying...until I went there, set up an internship tracking animals for this summer, and came back. The misunderstandings range from the minorly annoying idea that all Africa is a jungle or the constant shock people feel when learning how "brutal" the animal world is. A point I find endlessly ironic, but I won't go into that. What was most surprising to me, however, were the reactions I got when I described my internship. I was asked if I would be working with "natives" and if I was nervous about it. The same person asked if I would be hiking through the game reserve in order to track the animals. I was stunned by the implication that I "should" be more nervous about working with the people who live there (who by the way are awesome, hilarious, and if I can learn 1/10th of what they know I will be beyond thrilled), then the animals I'm tracking. To give a little perspective there is a saying that Ben, the tracker I met in Ngala, eventually translated into English for me after 20 minutes of valient effort (and a fair amount of laughter) to teach me how to say it in Shangaan. The saying is this "You don't have to be the fastest--you just have to be faster than one other person". If I were indeed to wander around a game reserve by myself I can think of at least 15 ways I would die, only 5 of which involve predators.

JBacchus's picture

Conversation with Dad

I just wanted to share a conversation that I had with my dad (actually through texting in the beginning of class).

Me: VA sad about your pictures "Papa Bacchus is baller yo"

Dad: I have no idea what "baller yo" means. Hope it is good :)

Me: "baller, yo" - baller is a really cool envied (kind of best of best) guy and "yo" provides emphasis

Dad: :)

Me: Baller is kind a synonym for pimp. It's a man who has reached success and wealth, or a thug who has made it to the top (comliments of

Dad: I am so pleased you know this stuff.

Me: Important knowledge . Today's literacy! (As I sit in my literacies and education class)

Dad: I prefer Keats.

et502's picture

Country Club discourse(s)

recall - - Discourse = “set of values and viewpoints in terms of which one must speak and act, at least while being in the discourse” (Gee)

So Mia and I were talking about going to this country club/Alumni benefit/conference. (we went to an alumnae conference in Santa Monica over the weekend to represent the 360 program - this is a post that we wrote together on the airplane on the way there)

We started talking about clothing. We both realized that we had no idea what would be appropriate to wear in this environment – as neither of us has spent a significant amount of time in a country club (and by that I mean that I have gone to one once, and she has never gone to one). Should we wear skirts? Dresses? what length is appropriate?

So we’re wondering: what kind of discourse are we entering? Are we actually going to have an opportunity to speak frankly and genuinely about our experiences, or will the discourse silence some aspect of our behavior? It’s certainly silencing our creative fashion sense!

Clothing is a perfectly reasonable cause for concern – every time I’ve done any career counseling, I’ve been told that first impressions are essential. So appearance is essential. Uncertain about the kind of discourse you are entering + wearing the wrong thing = making your illiteracy obvious and embarrassing.

So that’s we were so worried about this on our trip to Ghana – we had no idea what our clothing would say about us. Legitimate? Eh, I think so.

Riley's picture

Reflections on Ghana Study: Language Diversity

Although my group's Ghana Study presentation on language diversity was quite a few weeks ago, I still think often of the role language plays in Ghanaian society and education systems. Connecting to readings we've done in Pim's class on the subject of language in a postcolonial society, I find there are two (broadly speaking) schools of thought: the more idealistic (think Decolonizing the Mind of Ngugi wa Thiong'o) and the more pragmatic (think The Education of a British Protected Child of Chinua Achebe). Ideally, native language should play a huge role in national identity and pride. Speakers could be making concrete efforts to write in the language and to speak it. However, thinking more pragmatically, a unifying language (like English) could serve a purpose of being a place of neutrality and unification. Achebe writes, "The great thing about being human is our ability to face adversity down by refusing to be defined by it, refusing to be no more than its agent or its victim." He writes of a "middle ground...where the human spirit resists an abridgement of its humanity." And I think using English (in the context of Ghanaian education) could be the kind of middle ground about which Achebe writes.

Jenny Chen's picture


During this past Thursday's class we anonomously put up our thoughts about our trip to Ghana and where to progress from there. One classmates response asked a question along the lines of "What happens when the stereotypes we know about turn out to be more true that we had hoped?" and this particular question impacted me quite significantly and made me begin to think of answers to this question. 

To begin, I had a similar revelation while in Ghana. One day at lunch Alice asked me what my "AHA!" moment in Ghana was and I said that even though I had never been in Ghana or any country in Africa, what I was experiencing was not mind-blowingly different than what I had thought. When I applied to this 360 program and I had mentioned that one of my goals is to disprove some of the pre-conceived notions that I have about Africa as a whole. Through reading and analysis and ultimately through a first hand experience in Ghana I was expecting to come home with stories about how our original pre-conceived notions were all wrong and Ghana is actually like this and this, and so on and so forth. I never really thought of my pre-conceived notions as stereotypes but after one of my classmates brought it up, I realized that the question "What do we do when our stereotypes more true than hoped?" is actually very valid, and the answer does not come easily. 

HannahB's picture

Multiple Lenses

I found the discussion of the poem "Cinderella" in class on Thursday extremely valuable, particularly in the small group discussions. My favorite part was discovering and discerning all of the initial "first readings" of the poem. For some, their first readings and imaginings followed the traditional fairy tale, for others the poem raised connotations sex trade and for me personally, I set the poem in a modern sense--thinking of the business world, cultural capital, etc.

 As my group of three began devising a form of lesson plan, we kept circling back to these multiple readings. We decided then, that a great initial part of our lesson in a workshop would be to have everyone free write on the poem individually first, only later sharing their initial readings with a larger group. The purpose of this, while of course meaning to promote personal reflection, more importantly shows another example of multiliteracy.

By showing that people can interpret the same poem in so many different ways, within different contexts and deriving different meanings from it, eccentuates the point that people come from different backgrounds with different forms of literacy. I think that understanding and validating various interpretations of one story can help people in the process of learning to understand and validate various forms of literacy as well.

abeardall's picture

Reflections on Children's and Young Adult Literature in Ghana

My group did a presentation on children's and young adult literature in Ghana, in which I specifically focused on what was being read. It is interesting to be reflecting on my presentation on children's and young adult literature in Ghana now that I have actually visited Ghana. Before I left for Ghana, I had the opportunity to Skype with Kathy Knowles, a Canadian writer who has started libraries throughout Ghana. She spoke of how most Ghanaians don't read for pleasure because it's seen as a mostly academic endeavor and how almost all literature is written in English, usually a third language particularly for those who live in rural areas.

kwyly's picture

The Impact of Suggesting Ways to Think

I want to write my post in response to our class focusing on Olga Broumas' poem "Cinderella". Reading this poem highlighted the various perspectives that always exist and how it is valuable to approach texts and situations in open and respectful ways. Reading the poem with the title "Cinderella" immediately sets up the reader to draw connections to the fairytale that many of us are familiar with already; titles have the power to change the way the text is considered before the reader even engages with it. This poem could be read without the tittle and it is possible that the reader would not associate the text with a Cinderella story. In our group, we discussed how key words like "slipper of glass" and "ashes" give hints to a connection, but also could be read as separate from the aspects of Cinderella we already know. Even changing "glass slipper" to "slipper of glass" changes what readers imagine when they read the poem. The idea of reading Broumas' poem without the title gives a chance to start drawing connections from a blank slate that allows for the generation of unrestricted ideas.

alesnick's picture

thinking about culture

Today I learned a lot about how culture works.  In the morning, a student observed that a question that had emerged during our class's processing of our trip was doing work in the culture of our group.  This insight suggests that questions can be instances of cultural work/production, and as such are embedded in a particular context and time . . . the student suggested that we did not need to regard this question as transcontextual: rather, that its being posed could be usefully understood as in-time cultural work that we could let be without the letting be constitute ignoring or neglect.  So interesting!

In the afternoon I got to attend the panel discussion with Derrick Ashong and Soulfege, sponsored by Ghanaian Music/Global Entrepeneurship.  Derrick Ashong spoke about their group's interest in breaking the music industry paradigm.  He explained that for humans, the fulfillment of expectations, even with unwelcome outcomes, is deeply satisfying.  So, if mother says stay away from that young man, and that young man does indeed prove inconstant, mother is gratified even though the outcome is not welcome.  This is a powerful illustration of how culture works.  Ashong and Soulfege are trying to change culture, or recreate it, by establishing new expectations for contemporary Afropolitcal music.

elchiang's picture

Ghana Study 5: Children and Young Adult Literature

Since coming back from Ghana, in terms of children and young adult literature, I have found that more and more the importance is providing relevant literature to the lives of the children in Ghana. When we were at Titagya, I was reading the Highlights magazine with some of the students, and they stumbled upon a story called “Where is my goat?” The story was about a young African boy looking for his goat with his father, and the landscape was very similar to the landscape in Dalun. It was interesting to see the recognition register in the minds of the students, especially as most of the magazine had pictures that were very different from their lives.

            From researching the Burt Award as well as learning about the Gold Baobab Prize, I realize the impact of exposure to “people like you” on children and young adults through the media and education. This is a point where I can definitely relate to because I have never really had Asian American role models in my life through any forms of media. The first time any Asian American artist made the top ten Billboards was in 2010. Furthermore, I have never had a teacher of color in my whole educational career. Feeling the disempowerment of lacking role models makes me realize the importance of providing relevant reading material for Ghanaian children.