Linguistics

English & I: Literacy Autobiography

Written for an Applied Linguistics Master’s Course: Writing Theories in Second Language instruction

 

Introduction

     Early Exposures to English. I wrote my first story when I was about four years old. Even at that age, I had a high interest in reading, and so it was only natural that I would attempt to mimic writing stories similar to the children’s books I had at home. I had this large, spiral notebook that I used for drawing pictures. I felt excited and proud to have written a story on my own, even if it was just looped lines and scribbles, and I couldn’t wait to read it out loud to my mother. What started out as a positive experience, unfortunately, turned into a less colorful one:  I read the story to my mother, and though I believe she did enjoy it, the most poignant image of that memory was her laughing at the silly lines I drew instead of writing “real” words. It is a memory that I still emotionally react to as strongly today as I did when I was that little girl, wanting to share a story with my mother.

     I am a native English speaker, but my mother is not. Her native language is Tagalog, and so, from an early age, we did not have a wide variety of English texts at home. My mother can read in English, but since she does not have a high level of interest in reading or writing, my exposure to other forms of English media, other than children’s books, was limited at home. My mom mainly read in English for work or for personal interests, but because our interests did not often overlap, there was very little that I read outside of the books I had for personal reading.

     Explanation of Visual Model (Appendix 1). My visual model is separated into two distinct parts: Out-of-School and In-School Experiences. This first distinction was made in creating my visual model because, though there are some clear instances in which my In-School Experiences interacted with my Out-of-School Experiences, much of how I developed as a writer happened in these two separate parts. Expanding from this initial distinction, Out-of-School Experiences in the visual model are broken down by the academic writing experiences that occurred in Elementary School, Middle School, High School and College. Additionally, the College component of the model is broken down further into my experiences as an academic writer during my Undergraduate and Graduate years. Out-of-School writing experiences are broken down into three parts: Childhood, Teenage Years and Adulthood. These categories are separated in this way as there were specific and significant events that influenced my identity as a writer within each age range. Between and within each part of the model (In-School vs. Out-of-School Experiences), there are color coded arrows to show the relationship between each category. A key (Appendix 2) is provided to describe the relationship each arrow represents.

Literacy Experiences

     Category Relationships Explained. The antagonistic relationships that occurred began in the Childhood category and affected all other categories of my writing experiences, both In-School and Out-of-School. The first writing experience happened in the aforementioned anecdote of sharing my first “written” story with my mother. Her laughing at my first attempts at writing illustrated to me the vulnerability that is involved in showing your work to others. It was an experience I did not want to repeat which resulted in my developing a more secretive nature towards my personal writing. The second most significant experience that created antagonistic relationships between my writing experiences happened when I was about ten years of age. My brother read my diary without my permission and chastised me for writing honestly about my feelings and reactions to my relationship with my mother. At the time of writing this diary entry, I did not have many friends to confide in to work through the issues I was facing at school and home. Writing in my diary was the only means to working through them. Not only did his act violate what I felt was a safe, private place for me to write, he also added harsh, unwanted judgment to what wrote, instilling in me a fear to write my true thoughts and perspectives. Though one needs to consider audience in their writing, his reaction was so extreme that it filtered into how I wrote at school: my writing lost a bit of my identity as I was afraid of receiving the same harsh judgements from my teachers that I received from him.

     In my Out-of-School Experiences, the consistent complementary relationship that exists between the categories pertain mainly to my experiences writing in my diary. Though the venue for writing remained the same from Childhood to Adulthood, the experiences were unique in each category as my life experience grew and expanded from my home life to the community around me. Similarly, my In-School writing experiences from Elementary School to College relate mainly to the writing conventions I was exposed to at each stage and how that exposure influenced my academic writing. I also consider these In-School experiences with writing conventions to relate sequentially as each category contained significant experiences that were necessary for the following categories to have their influence on me.

     The most significant complementary relationship experiences occurred for me when I was in High School. Prior to this point in my life, my personal and school writing personas were completely separated planes of being in that very little of how I wrote at home resulted from how I wrote at school. However, in High School, there was a clear bridge that began to form between these two personas. The first significant change happened my Freshmen year. I befriended a classmate who enjoyed writing and who often enjoyed sharing it with me. It was during a poetry unit in our writing class that I began to personally explore other genres of writing outside of journaling because of this friend. She also encouraged me to share my work more freely, a practice I rarely exercised. The second significant change happened during Junior and Senior year. My writing teachers were not only open-minded, encouraging and positive about my writing process, but they also provided me with the skills to discover a wider range of writing genres. I finally began to explore writing as something “beyond subject content, composing processes and textual forms” and focused on how “writing attempts to communicate with its readers” (Hyland, 2003, p. 18). These experiences helped me recover some of the courage to explore my true voice and perspective that I had lost in my Childhood. One particularly positive experiences occurred with my English Composition teacher, Mrs. White, who praised a short story I wrote by noting how “Poe-like” my writing was. She had no idea at the time that Poe was one of my favorite writers. It was this experience that truly helped me identify myself as a “real writer” because she instilled in me the belief that I had something important to say and “got out of my way” enough to allow me the freely explore my own writing material (Tobin, 2003, p. 5) which, in turn, turned me into a more conscious and purposeful writer.

     These High School and Teenage Years experiences also created clear, synergistic relationships. They were so positive that it led me to identify more as a writer which increased my interest in writing personal narratives, fictional stories and poetry for personal and academic purposes. I began to put more thought into the writing craft through research, and I also began to take more personal initiative in sharing my work with others both with my academic and personal writing. Additionally, there is a clear hierarchical relationship that exists because of these positive experiences in High School and in my Teenage Years. As those experiences worked together to help me identify as a writer and to bridge the gap that existed between my personal and academic writing experiences, I also began to see how important these particular categories were in forming my literacy. Without them I do not think I would have expanded to other genres of writing, nor do I think that I would have gained the confidence to overcome some of my former reservations about writing to truly identify as a writer.

     Reflection on My Current Writing Identity. Despite some of the more negative experiences with my family, I was fortunate to have many experiences with open-minded teachers who accepted my voice and my perspective in writing, even if it differed from their own personal beliefs. My experiences at school equipped me with the ability to not only acknowledge my perspectives on the world but to also have the courage to express them through writing, though, at times, I still feel insecure about it. Had it not been for those more positive experiences in high school, I do not think I would be as open with my writing as I am now. Currently, most of my writing is still for personal exploration – from journal writing to story writing – but now, I make more of an effort to engage in writing experiences that are more collaborative and social in nature through blogging and writing clubs. However, I believe that I have come a long way from that little girl whose mother laughed at her first story or the scared sister whose brother chastised her for writing her true feelings in her diary.

     As a teacher, I try to foster the belief that writing starts on a personal level and should be valued and encouraged so that I am not merely “[telling] the writer where she had gone wrong but to [helping] her see what she had accomplished and what [her writing] might become in its next incarnation” (Tobin, 2001, p. 6). In this way, I feel that I am emulating the same courtesy and encouragement I received from my high school writing teachers: outside of writing conventions, I try not to judge the ideas they have or try to shape them to how I think they should be. My role is merely to allow students the ability to realize that they have “agency, authority, an authentic voice, and a unified self” during the writing process (Tobin, 2001, p. 15).

Conclusion

     Reflection on Creating the Visual Model and Literacy Experiences. My experience in creating the model was frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it helped me to visually construct and reflect on who I am as a writer. In terms of content, I was frustrated in not being able to share in more extensive detail how the experiences within each category worked to influence others. Instead, I had to focus on what I considered to be the most significant categories which contained my most influential writing experiences. On a personal level, it was often difficult to recall certain memories that would help to better illustrate how and why the components of my model influenced one another. The best part of creating this model was being able to visually see where and when certain experiences affected me most. In this way, I could more clearly understand the reservations I had about writing and the ways in which I had positively developed as a writer. Reaching these new clarities has been significant to me in that I can pinpoint where certain anxieties and insecurities about my writing began in order to reflect on how I can further develop. I hope that, by now understanding where my insecurities come from, I will finally begin moving forward to a place where I feel more comfortable with writing in more social and collaborative atmospheres, so that I can better, “reposition [myself] in relation to [my] own and others’ subjectivities, discourses, practices and institutions” (Trimbur, 1994, as cited by Atkinson, 2003, p. 3). In this way, I believe I can accomplish better purposes with my writing, both social and academic.

     In her article on the ideology that exists in ESL pedagogy, Benesch (1993) quotes Tate (1993): “I refuse to look at my students as primarily history majors, accounting majors, nursing majors. I much prefer to think of them and treat them as people…as they struggle to figure out how to live their lives” (Tate, 1993, as cited by Benesch, 1993, p. 713). In similar ways, creating this visual model of my literacy experiences helped me to analyze and consider all the aspects of who I am as a writer, from both personal and academic platforms. I hope to take these experiences and apply them to the ways in which I help guide and support writers in the classroom, by helping students explore and identify all aspects of themselves that contribute to who they are as writers and by helping them understand how to use that knowledge to influence and engage positively with the world around them.

 

References:

Atkinson, D. (2003). L2 writing in the post-process era: Introduction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12(1), 3-15.

Benesch, S. (1993). ESL, ideology and the politics of pragmatism. TESOL Quarterly, 27(4), 114-123. Hyland, K. (2003). Second language writing. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Tobin, L. (2001). Process pedagogy. In G. Tate, A. Rupiper & K. Schick (Eds.), A guide to composition pedagogies (pp. 1-18). NY & Oxford: OUP.

 

Appendix 1: Visual Model of Literacy Experiences

Screenshot 2019-06-05 at 21.19.58.png

 

Appendix 2: Key for Visual Model

Screenshot 2019-06-05 at 21.20.43.png

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