Personal Literacy Journey

My name is Hannah Weaver, and I’m in the MAT program for middle grades English.  I got my bachelor’s from the University of Pittsburgh in nonfiction writing, and my only teaching experience has been 4 months as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant.  An interesting fact about me is that I studied classical ballet for 14 years and took a year off of school after I graduated HS to dance full-time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

 

My earliest memories of reading and writing are fond ones.  Before I could read, my parents read to me regularly.  Books were an important part of our lives since before I can remember.  The transition to reading on my own was seamless, and I was gorging on books as soon as I could.  I read series of fiction books when I was in elementary school—The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz books, Nancy Drew.  I was the kid who begged to get more books than I could carry on a library trip, but I ended up reading them all before they were due anyway.  My fiercely competitive nature came into even my reading, as I remember that once I found the longest book in the school library, Little Women.  It took my 2nd grade self nearly 6 months to read the 754 pages, most of which I didn’t understand, but I was proud to have read what I considered a “grown-up book.”  Reading, then, gave me a sense of accomplishment.  I recognized the power of reading and the world that literacy opens up, and I was proud to have that access.

 

Even after I could read, my family still did a great job of setting aside time to read aloud to my brother and me.  As older kids, my dad read us Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice and Wonderland, Treasure Island, and all kind of other classic children’s series.  I think it was this ritual of reading aloud in my household that both fostered a vivid imagination and planted the seed for the love of literature.

 

Writing also started out on a good note for me.  Before I could write, I used to illustrate books—drawings on construction paper that I would staple together like a book.  As I grew older, my fourth grade teacher in particular played a huge role in my development as a writer.  She structured her classroom much like a writing workshop, and we wrote creative pieces daily.  One exercise I particularly remember is that every day for a week, we would pick out a paint chip from a bucket and have to write a poem inspired by the name of that paint color.  She also recognized the value of students seeing their work published in some way, so we all submitted at least one poem to a national children’s poetry anthology.  When my poem got published, and I saw it printed in that hard cover book, I truly felt like a writer.

 

As I entered middle and high school, reading and writing became a different experience for me.  The focus of literacy became performance.  Any sort of creative expression was traded for the five-paragraph essay.  Still, I liked English class because I was good at it, but I didn’t feel that love for literacy that I’d felt in late elementary school.

 

It wasn’t until college that I truly felt that again.  As my tastes in reading and writing became clearer, I began to do it for fun again.  I grew interested in literary and creative nonfiction reading and writing, and began journaling regularly.  Currently in my literary journey, I’m trying to widen my array of reading, especially reading books that my future students might be interested in.

 

My own experience with literacy can inform my teaching in many ways.  When the imagination and creativity was sucked out of English class, I lost my passion for books.  As a preservice English teacher, I recognize the importance of preparing our students for state standards, but it should be our goal to do that in the most dynamic and engaging method possible.  Also, I think student choice is a huge part of nurturing literacy in the classroom, because when I was given a choice about what kind of reading I wanted to do, I grew interested and was more likely to produce a meaningful response.  My background knowledge about reading in content areas is limited, but through this course I hope to gain a deeper understanding of what literacy is and how it can be taught across the curriculum. RCA2011

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Personal Literacy Journey

  1. Hannah,

    I have to admit that when I read your first paragraph, I thought-Flashdance! Sorry, but I can’t tell you how many times I watched that film during my young adulthood (I envy your skills!). Now, regarding literacy…
    Wow, your family certainly immersed you in classic literature. I agree with your claim about students having choice in the classroom. Giving them choices (no matter how obscure those choices may be) increases the motivation to read! I am intrigued by your teacher’s use of paint chips to inspire poetry; I will have to make a mental note to pass that on.
    It is interesting to see a common trend throughout these posts regarding the enjoyment or passion for literature. If the current system managed to stifle OUR genuine love for reading, writing, and learning, just imagine how it is affecting those students who are struggling and those who lack the motivation to read at all.

    Lori

  2. Cris

    I’m sharing your 4th grade teacher’s “Paint Chip Poems” activity with everyone I know interested in teaching poetry, Hannah. It’s charming and certainly has proven results! Congratulations on being published by 4th grade.

    Also really appreciate your cautionary tale of what happens when “the focus of literacy becomes performance.” It is one that I’ve heard way too often. I think this new generation of teachers who suffered through the performance era can change that though. You’ve the passion and vision to succeed.

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