Nurturing a “Literacy of Me”

Shawna Parkinson

Shawna is a high school English teacher at Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. She finds joy in designing instruction that encourages students to apply their learning to their lives, interests, or future careers. You may follow Shawna on Twitter: @ParkinsonLearns.


This school year I began to lead a book study on the Quest for Learning: How to Maximize Student Engagement and found myself powerfully reminded that our students need to not only form learning networks in our physical classroom spaces, but need to also “use digital tools for virtual learning connections.” Without these virtual connections, the text argues, students “will not be adequately prepared” for the future.

As a teacher of juniors, I do want to make sure that my students are prepared for the future. This means I want students to truly develop an understanding of themselves, an understanding of their future paths, and an understanding of one’s “mission of me” by the time graduation arrives.

To add further technology into my classroom and to implement a pathway that allowed for more moments in the classroom that embraced self-discovery, I wondered:

  • Could my students each have a blog that allowed the students to explore their own unique stories?
  • If my students better understood the totality of their own “story,” would they be better prepared for college essays, job interviews, and have more confidence in entering the next “stage” of life, after finishing their education at the high school level?
  • To comply with the standards I was teaching, could students apply the content they were learning regarding rhetoric and argument to the writing of their own blog posts? Could each blog post help them to later construct arguments with both anecdotal and factual evidence?

Since I could answer “yes” to all of the questions above, I knew that I should give my students the opportunity to utilize blogging as a means to, first, explore their own stories, and, second, to apply the concepts and learning happening in class.

Steps to Implementing This Blogging Experience in My Classroom

In the first blog assignment, I asked my students to find a column that spoke to their own passions or interests in a future career field. They then used this column as a launching pad to introduce themselves to others, so that, we, as a class, could get to know each other better. Of course, there were additional assignment details, but the heart of the first blog centered on students crafting an introduction to themselves by sharing at least one passion.

In the next writing, I gave students several options. They could (1) share a story of a moment that sparked their interest regarding that passion in a particular field or (2) prove their passion in a particular field by sharing their knowledge using jargon and terminology or (3) share a positive story of an obstacle in which they learned a powerful lesson about character, discipline or a mindset that shaped them into the people they are today.

By our third blog post, several components had become clear:

  • Students were ready to create their own prompts. Student ownership was present, and students were more than ready to choose their own topics, create their own prompts and/or choose their own experiences for sharing.
  • Students were truly invested in their writing. Writing workshop contained an array of start-times for writing, because students were truly contemplating and considering the stories that were best to share.
  • Students were able to connect their blogs to their futures after high school. They could discuss pivotal moments when they first realized a potential career choice, and were ready to discuss meaningful future career experiences, such as job shadowing.

In my classroom, we will use to continue to utilize this blogging experience to encourage moments of self-discovery in our class. Since it is easy to implement our writing standards into the blogging process, I remain convinced that this pathway of sharing not just our stories, but our stances on modern-day issues allows for meaningful moments of reflection as students prepare for their futures.

Not only this, but from my own educator’s lens, I believe these blogs are a helpful reminder of the importance of implementing moments of self-discovery into all classrooms. I have realized that this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from the two-second compliment given in class to the more thorough moments of reflection at the end of a project.

In essence, to nurture moments of self-discovery for our learners, here is what I believe:

  • All educators have the power to nurture students’ perceptions of themselves each day. A simple “I loved your persistence in solving…” creates a self-discovery bookmark in students’ minds. It could mean to a student: I am persistent. I excel at challenges. Each time we reach out to students in ways like this, we are adding to their journey of self discovery, of knowing one’s self.
  • Putting a compliment in writing creates a permanent momento for students to remember. My teacher noticed my passion, my leadership, my kindness, my energy…these are all descriptors that students need to be aware of when persuading others of who they are— in their college essays, in their job interviews, at their first club meetings. Taking the time to do this not only strengthens the student-teacher bond, but it also adds to the students’ vision of self.
  • Small steps can cumulatively lead to leaps of understanding. At the end of a group project, a lesson or a writing experience, we can ask: What did you learn about yourself today that you were not aware of before? Or, we can say: Share one moment from your writing that seemed to authentically define you. Why did this moment define you best? By encouraging questions like this in our classroom, we can create opportunities for open dialogue. These moments of open dialogue could help students learn even more about themselves: the personal philosophies, mindsets, and stories that help them to understand the “progression” of who they are. Slowly, this progression of the student’s story could, perhaps, lead to an even deeper and more complex understanding of self.

Last, I would suggest it is possible for many of our students to move from the development of a “mission of me,” as referenced above, to a “literacy of me,” even in their high school years. This means that I would propose the following as a line of thought to be considered:

A “mission” is partly defined as knowing one’s calling. A “literacy” is partly defined as the expertise of being conversant in a particular subject. I would argue that there are students who not only know their calling, but have the ability to articulate knowledge regarding their calling to others in meaningful ways. In essence, I believe there are learners who have the potential to move from a “mission of me” to a “literacy of me” even while in their high school years.

As the infographic shows, with a series of small moves, we could support our students in reflecting on their calling, or “mission.” For those students who are especially confident in their “mission,” we could support them by further encouraging student ownership to develop a “literacy of me.” This “literacy of me” would demonstrate the student’s ability to engage in conversations regarding current issues in the field using specific, content skills and academic knowledge.

I am confident that there are all kinds of endless learning endeavors just waiting to be made possible for our learners. With imagination, risk, careful planning, and collaboration, we have the power to inspire ourselves and others by sharing our own ideas. And who knows? Maybe one day there is a chance that our learners could truly have, not just an elevator pitch of the “mission of me” by the time they graduate, but a full-fledged “literacy of me” to share with any future educational institution or employer.

With a little imagination, anything is possible.

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