(Worth 10% of your grade; due on September 19)
Whether you realize it or not, your status as an upper-level university student (studying English, no less) sets you apart as one of the most literate people in the world. This assignment challenges to you to answer a simple question: How did you get that way? More specifically, this assignment asks you to tell a story—a narrative—about some aspect of your development as a literate individual. For this project, we will define the term literacy quite broadly, to include multimedia literacy, computer literacy, and information literacy in addition to the traditional categories of reading, writing, and speaking. Your narrative should recount a specific experience (or series of experiences) from your life to show how you became the reader, the writer, the speaker, the technologist, etc., that you are today.
Rather that writing a traditional essay, you will develop your narrative as a multimodal presentation that combines your spoken voice with timed still images. Practically speaking, that means you will create a video recording of yourself reading your narrative over a slideshow of images. In class, we will use PowerPoint to accomplish this task, but you may choose to use other tools to create your narrative. Whatever approach you take to composing your narrative, the finished product should be a short video (2-3 minutes) that you can submit to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.
Strategies for Crafting a Successful Narrative
The following strategies provide broad guidance, but they aren’t a series of algorithmic steps like you’d use to bake a cake. If you have a Betty Crocker cake mix and you follow the steps on the box, you are all but guaranteed success in baking that cake. By contrast, the arts of writing and revision are recursive and generative. You often have to go back to go forward. Writing and revising also help you invent content—writing is not just the act of transcribing completed thoughts. So be open to scrapping what is not working and developing or redeveloping your ideas as you go. With those warnings in mind, here are a few strategies for crafting a successful literacy narrative:
Step 1: Consider several possible events and angles. Rather than latching onto the first idea that pops into your mind, take some time to generate a long list of possible essay topics. Think about important milestones in your literate life (learning to read, using a computer for the first time, joining your first online community), then write down as many details as you can about each of those events. Who were the people involved? Where did the events take place? What physical objects did you use? You may find that some events evoke stronger memories and feelings than others, and you may even discover that the process of writing down details helps you remember things you thought you had forgotten.
Step 2: Select a specific event and focus on it. Once you have generated a list of possible experiences, you should choose one event (or a series of connected events) that you feel will make the most compelling story. Remember, your finished video should be no longer than three minutes, so your essay shouldn’t meander aimlessly through your life story. The best narratives are highly specific, full of details that paint a vivid picture for the reader, so before you begin to draft the essay, sketch out the fine points of your event. Next, try to articulate what point you want to make with your essay. What is the moral of the story or the take-away lesson for the reader? Finally, determine the sequence of sections in your narrative. Do you want to start by establishing who you are and why that matters, or do you want to dive right in to the story?
Step 3: Draft your narrative. If you have completed Steps 1 and 2, you should have plenty of material to draw upon as you begin writing your essay. Use whatever method is most comfortable for you, whether it is drafting on the computer, writing in a notebook, or recording yourself talking out loud. By nature, first drafts are incredibly messy, and that’s OK. You will have time in class to get feedback from your classmates about what you have written and to time yourself reading it out loud.
Step 4: Illustrate your narrative. Because your finished narrative will be presented as a video, it should be visually interesting to your audience. The images you choose to illustrate your story should be somehow connected to the words you are speaking, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to present literal depictions of every object or character in your story. Rather, the collection of images you choose should complement the text and create a cohesive visual experience for your viewers. We will spend time in class discussing how to find images that are appropriately licensed for use in projects like these, but you are also welcome to include images that you have created yourself.
Step 5: Revise and rehearse your narrative. As you read through your draft with the images in place, you will discover that you are pleasantly surprised by some parts of your essay and deeply unhappy with other parts. At this point, it will help to get some advice from your classmates, so we will spend a day in class workshopping each other’s narratives. After this workshop, you should make final revisions to your text and rehearse it multiple times before you record the finished narrative.
Your narrative will be evaluated using the following criteria:
- Content: Does the narrative use specific details to tell a compelling story? Does the story serve a larger purpose? In other words, does the author make connections between the event(s) described and his or her development as a literate individual?
- Organization: Does the arrangement of the narrative reflect careful thought and planning? Do the images in the video complement the spoken text?
- Style: Does the narrative use a consistent tone and point of view? Does the narrative employ stylistic choices that are appropriate for the genre and audience?
- Technical Proficiency: Does the video play without problems? Is the audio crisp, clear, and free of background noise? Are the images appropriately scaled to avoid pixelization and distortion?
- Citations: Does the video cite the original sources for each of its images, giving credit where credit is due?
- Grammatical Conventions and Mechanics: Does the written script adhere to the conventions of standard written English?