Hidden Literacy

One of the many series of art projects hanging in the hallways of Clarke Central

Through these numerous art projects, the students not only see examples of literacy but they also see how the expression of literacy is accessible to them. I walked past these projects many times looking for examples of what our school is telling our students about literacy. Our county is pushing literacy this year; however, I think that many people like myself overlook these projects when looking for examples of it in our curriculum. We look for reading and writing, and of course, those are important, but when we approach the topic that way, we miss these artistic expressions of relevant messages and subtexts.

"Strategies for learning about literacy need to be tied to real, authentic activity that is better connected to the more context-based problems and techniques of practical life." ~Neuman and Celano

These bags demonstrate the possibilities of blank canvases surrounding the student body. Writing can take place in so many areas outside of their classrooms--a Chipotle bag, even. Not only is the medium an extremely common and authentic one but the topic they address through this art is also directly tied to a practical problem in their community. Whether the creators of these bags know of the problem or not, I'm confident the teacher did. We struggle to inspire our students to think past the current moment and create a future for themselves. Part of this difficulty is present in all high schools; however, due to the poverty rate at my placement, there is a prevailing narrative that tells our students it will never get better--that they can never create a different story. Because of this narrative, I think these projects are some of the finest expressions of literacy in our school. They tell students that they can make meaning out of anything and that their lives are worth finding meaning in.

On the left, one of the many iliad posters around school. On the right, two portions of #JustWriteIt, a #Wattpad from my placement school.

These examples of literacy are my favorite selections because I was honestly shocked when I learned about one of them. You can see on the left that The iliad poster has been torn off the wall prior to this photo; no matter how many times it is stapled back on the wall or replaced with a copy, the poster always ends up on the floor again. I believe this poster is intended to foster excitement over writing and to extend an invitation to the child looking for an avenue to grow his or her gifts; however, I think it has taken on the form of a command to some students. It says, "This is where you write, and this is how you write." (Also, some kids are jerks and they like to rip posters down. That detail is not lost on me in this analysis.)

While the other two photos do not necessarily speak to the ways our school defines literacy publicly, they do serve as a wonderful example of hidden literacy. They also fit nicely into our discussion over compliance and resistance in the classroom. When I compared the poster for The iliad with the pictures beside it, I could not help but think of Elbow's commentary on resistance and compliance in writing. I took these photos in a hurry as my student Joanna (she can be seen in the reflection of the screen in the top photo) showed me where she writes. I have worked and worked to make Joanna turn in missing work to her ELA teacher, and it wasn't until the end of the year that she turned to me and said, "I write. I just don't write for you." Then she and her classmates showed me several pieces they had written on #Wattpad. This site allows students (or people in general but our students use it somewhat separately from what I can tell) to write and share stories with each other. The photo on the bottom right is the first chapter of Joanna's novel, and she only let me read it when I promised not to "teacher it up."

"Is there not a universal tendency to feel, at some level, 'I want you to accept my writing just the way it is —just the way I put it down. I don't want to have to exert myself to clean it up just to make it easy for you.'" ~Elbow

Similar to how Elbow speaks about the freedom of resistance in his writing, Joanna has chosen to resist the message of the poster above. She has resisted the notion that teachers will tell her where to write and how to write, and by doing so, she and other students like her have created an ulterior, underground message through #Wattpad that essentially says, "Come as you are, write your story, and be appreciated for it." On some level, Joanna (and all of us) writes to be accepted, and she sees "teachering it up" as a form of rejection, so she has chosen to resist this writing space. Her resistance comes with a cost seeing as she is failing her ELA class; however, Joanna sees herself as a writer within her own space. She has readers who wish to know what will happen with her characters. She has a responsibility to this space, resistant or not. Joanna would never step foot in The iliad, but she is a writer.

Read 180 Catalogue

The posters above communicate what I think could be possibly the most dangerous message we can express about literacy to students. The Read 180 Catalogue is displayed in every Read 180 lab, the class for students who are the most resistant to reading and writing. The entire system relies on Lexile scores, and as you can see, the catalogues are no different. In the picture on the right, you see a green sticker at the top left of the photo. These stickers are color coded for students' Lexile scores; for instance, if I score below a 300 on the Lexile test (below a 2nd grade reading level), I choose from the books in the category with the green sticker and so on. Although if I score under a 200, then I have no book suggestions; that's when I go straight to audiobooks. I actually understand why these catalogues exist, especially for teachers. As a teacher in the Read 180 classroom, I have not come close to reading all the books in the library, so it is helpful to know the reading level of the book before I suggest it to students. In my opinion, though, the posters create an overall negative atmosphere when displayed in the classroom.

"I can't read that. I'm not the yellow face." ~A student from my 3rd period Read 180 class

Displaying it on the walls of the classroom, though, sends a subliminal message telling students that certain books are not for them. Yet again, we communicate that our students are a number, and that number dictates what classroom you go to, what teachers you have, and even what books you consider within that "slow class," as my students call it. Then, we teach some of these more difficult novels in our English classes, so at the very least, we handicap our students by telling them they cannot read these certain books and then requiring them to read them in their ELA class. Not only are we sending contradictory messages, but we are also reinforcing the idea that they are not worthy to sit in their on-level English class. Then, we are angry or surprised when they choose to skip the class rather than show up for a fight we already told them they would lose. The message about literacy here is that it isn't for everyone, or at the very least, you don't get to choose how you interact with it.

Created By
Madison Jones

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.