Layers of Literacy at CSHs

On my first day at CSHS, before I had a key to the teacher restrooms, I went to one of the female students' stalls and saw the word "CHaoS" carved into the stall door. It was cut deep into the door and clearly had taken some time and effort to complete. Since being engraved into the door someone has tried to cover it up with several layers of paint, but today the message remains.

This student's message caught my attention in relationship to the few things I knew about my school going into this year. The headlines of the violence and crime that have plagued my school are difficult to miss, and while I stared at the inscription, "CHaoS", I wondered what it was like for my student's to be constantly bombarded by this type of media and literacy. I wondered if this student's message was a response to the headlines and other literacies in my school and community. What other responses might my future students write and it what ways do the literacies in my school shape my student's writing and reading of their worlds? What positive literacies could I help expose my student's to and what beneficial literacies were already in the building?

The media has covered many troubling incidents that have occurred at my school over the past year. Combined the headlines paint a long and grueling image of the school. The students are very aware of how their school is portrayed and the events that have taken place in the building in 2016. While the physical headlines are not littering the hallways, they spread quickly through word of mouth and through social media. Students and teachers alike whisper and sometimes cry out about the issues that are so publicly covered and dissected by the media. This message that CSHS is a place of violence is written on the walls of the school, even when the hallways are empty of any writing. When this type of coverage and message is so saturated, it leaks into the building despite the best efforts anyone could make.

While the students are taught by these headlines that they attend a certain type of school, many of them respond and write as any teenager at any high school would. We will continue on below to look at some of the ways they respond in the building and how the marks they leave on their space effects the space and literacies of their peers.

My students write on bathroom walls, on benches, on desks and on surfaces of any kind. They leave many different types of messages and images to their peers and sometimes seemingly to no one at all. You could argue that some of the tags some of my students leave on their desks are an indicator of gang activity and the "type of school" the earlier literacies depict the school as being an example of, but really these are the markings of individual teenage voices. While they are unique and interesting, they are not simply the prescribed writings of troubled youth. They are however an intriguing addition to the literacy of the space.

Some students write messages seemingly of some sort or devotion.
Other students tag desks to show allegiance to other groups.
A student leaves their signature on a desk, perhaps to be remembered for their presence at this place and time, or maybe to work on their autograph for when they reach fame. Many of my students tell me they dream of being famous.
Many students draw characters and cartoons on desks. Sometimes these drawings include speech bubbles and sequances of stories. Other times the drawings are simply phallic images.
Some drawings and messages become distorted as students from different class periods add and subtract from preexisting writings.
Some students simply scribble out of boredom or the inability to stay still. Some times our students need to move a pen and leave a mark on something. Some of these scribbles become drawings of faces and other images. Other scribbles and doodles remain simply geometric or "mindless" in nature.
Some images are forcefully etched into desks in permanent pen. A teacher may attempt to remove these images, like the "DEX" image above, but often when a student puts their mind into leaving their mark on their school, it can be very difficult to erase these efforts.

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