When I was in elementary school, I began to read what would become an endearing series of books. These were The Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Lemony Snicket. These were my favorite books as a kid. I liked them so much that I started to collect the entire series. Eventually I had all of the 13 hardcover books. Until a year ago, they were sitting on a book self collecting dust.
About a year ago I introduced my, then 8 year old, sister Sydney to The Bad Beginning, the first book in the series. From then on she was hooked. With the help of my mom, my sister was able to recently finish the entire series. My fondest memories of literature are of my sister and I talking about the books and all of the nostalgia I felt during those moments.
My fondest memory involving “literacy” (or at least as we have attempted to loosely define it in our class discussions) was actually not so much from my childhood but was around a year ago. I was studying abroad in London and strange enough, what affected me most culturally speaking when I was living there was not so much the accents or the architecture or the people (though I loved all of these things), but instead, it was books. Almost everyone over there reads at least somewhat casually, and they do this all..the..time.
As such, I found a new appreciation for reading as an intrinsically worthwhile activity; I started reading a lot of relatively dense literature (most of it philosophy) that I would normally only read in a classroom setting. I wanted to see if I could read it without having someone more knowledgable than me pointing to which parts “mattered”, per se.
I picked up a book called “Meditations” by Marcus Aurellius and without carrying on for too much longer in this post, it truly changed my life. It was the first time in recent memory where I had read something not just attention grabbing or well-written, but almost absurdly practical for my everyday life. I always considered my self “good” at reading (whatever that means) but for the first time in a long time, I was doing it for me.
Though somewhat late in to the game in my life, that moment has sharply and powerfully molded my perspective on what literacy “is for”… Yes, some things are worth reading because they are well-written. Others simply because its important to know them as “citizens” or “humans”. And yes, some things are just plain fun to read. However, in my view, it is the passages, books, etc. that directly mold you and improve you as a person that make literacy truly worth it.
My fondest memory of literacy stems from my junior year combined history and English class, titled American History. The class was a double period, co-taught by a history and English teacher. Our texts each focused on historical events, while incorporating both fiction and non-fiction. As a student, English was never my strong suite, but I absolutely adored history. History class to me was a matured version story time, and I believed that taking a class that combined the two would allow me to improve my writing skills. My English teacher was not a completely sane woman. Among other traits, she was utterly obsessed with finding glimmers of symbolism throughout texts. She never strayed from hiding what she wanted us to find in every chapter, whether through music, colors, animals or simple sentence structure. Reading became less of a class chore, and more of a way to beautify pages finding the different themes throughout.
I found immediate joy in turning the loose-leaf in class to find multitudes of colored notations and symbols I had coded. The books I read for this class quickly became torn and shredded, a demonstration of the time and love I had dedicated. The methods I learned from my teacher have crucially stuck with me throughout a variety of education quests. Coding and note taking has become one of my favorite forms of literacy. Today, my computer rarely leaves my bedside desk as I venture to class with my planner, notebook and pencils, attempting to recreate beauty on the notes I take for class.
In class on Tuesday, we discussed how each of us defines literacy. Many of our definitions had certain aspects in common, such as how literacy can refer to being not only able to read and understand, but also being able to communicate in an effective and appropriate way for those you are talking to so that they can understand the message, or point, you are trying to get across. We also discussed how you talk and approach your friends differently than you would to your parents, professors, etc.
One of my fondest memories of literacy is from my part-time nanny job that I held over the summer. Two days a week I watched two girls, ages 1 and 3. Watching them weekly not only brought joy to my life, but it also gave me first hand experience in toddler and infant communication. For those of you who don’t know, speech ability varies quite a bit between these ages. The two girls and I would read books frequently and the 3 year old would sometimes want to read instead. In these cases, I would whisper the words into her ear and she would say them aloud to her younger sister. The 1 year old was always the most interesting, developmental wise, in my opinion. Sometimes she could say certain words very clearly and I could understand exactly what she wanted. Other times, I wasn’t so fortunate. She had come up with her own words, phrases, and signals to let me know what she wanted. Especially when I first started, I had a hard time adjusting to this new vocabulary I had to pick up on, but eventually I got it down pat. The most fascinating part of it all was that the 3 year old understood her younger sister perfectly. It was amazing to me how just a difference in age can effect the communication gap so greatly.
One particularly early memory I have of literacy is from my third year of preschool (I started early and stuck around for a while–the joke my father always made was that the preschool ‘red shirted’ me because I was such a good kid), when we had just started to learn the alphabet. It was easy enough once you got the hang of the song and all of that, but I had a weird quirk of always separating the letters by what I perceived their genders to be, and would always color them pink/purple or blue/green accordingly. To me, the girl letters were A, B, E, I, K, P, S, V, X, Y, and Z. If I think about it, I can still see some indescribable, but inherently male/female aspect to letters, although I still can’t really explain how or why. I later had the same experience with numbers, strangely. My pet theory is that it came from seeing those little anthropomorphic pictures of letters we would color when we learned about them one at a time, but I think this might even predate that.
I try to avoid unnecessarily giving genders to letters and numbers now, but I still support bringing coloring back into the classroom from time to time.
My best memory of literacy is from my experiences in the 4th grade with my teacher Mr. Carney. We read a variety of books, but right now the only one I remember clearly is the first book in the Harry Potter Series. I distinctly remember one day when I was reading aloud in class and my teacher complimented how well I read aloud to the class. After that school day, my teacher took my father aside to tell him how great of a reader I was. I never knew this! It was news to my ears but my parents were excited. I didn’t really know what that meant so I just kind of went along with it, but I still hold that day in my memory as one of the nicest academic compliments I ever received in my youth.
Hello, students in Uses of Literacy!
This will be our blog site for the course, where you will post or comment on ideas relevant to the course at least once per week. I’ll provide a prompt below for the first week, but after this week, you’ll be writing posts and comments to each other–although of course, I’ll be reading them! And I’ll occasionally comment or post, too. For reference, you can look at blogs from other semesters: Fall 2014 and Fall 2012. But this site will become your own, and will reflect the unique make-up of this group.
To start out, please post a personal memory of literacy. It might focus on a particular person, book, class or space. Just a paragraph or so. The point is for us to get to know each other a little bit, and for you to practice posting to this site.
After you’ve written your post, read your classmates’ posts, and comment on at least *two* of them. I’ll expect substantive comments for other weeks, but for now, just a word of support or a shared similar memory will do.
Please email me if you have any trouble posting or commenting on the site. I look forward to reading about your literacy memories!