“Writing is much more than putting ink on paper”: Teacher-Writer Identities and Socially Responsible Literacies




In this chapter, a teacher educator who has worked with preservice English language arts teachers since 2005 promotes the identity and role of the “teacher as writer” through digital and non-digital literacies in an undergraduate teacher preparation course. In the English Language Arts Laboratory, the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN) permits the practice of socially responsible literacies and encourages preservice teachers to develop their identities (as adults, teachers, and writers), advance equity (as agents for social justice), and contribute to their school and civic communities (as bicultural professionals). The chapter explores the concept of teachers as writers while suggesting how they can practice socially responsible literacies with adolescent writers. Classroom-tested materials, featured with concepts and in context, include sample writings and prompts, assessments, and projects that English language arts teachers and DALN users can adapt with writing groups for secondary and postsecondary literacy education. Research and practice from the National Writing Project and other scholars help to inform decision-making for instruction and to support students’ understanding of concepts. Overall, the chapter invites preservice teacher-writers to involve their adolescent students across disciplines to develop digital writing skills, cultural knowledge, and socially responsible literacies that can advance writer identities.



The lesson is pretty clear: if you draw from life, from observation, your writing will be more convincing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or contemporary realism—whatever it is, it will benefit from real-life observation… Nothing can substitute for the level of specificity you get when you actually observe. —Dave Eggers (2011, p. 2)


Through the preparation of secondary-level teachers, teacher educators can influence society as they challenge traditional approaches to and perspectives on literacy. They can foster what Sylvester and Summers (2012) define as socially responsible literacy: critical understanding of “how one thinks, speaks, acts, and presents oneself in any given context” through examination of issues and realities connected to access, power, and privilege (p. 8). In this chapter, the call by Sylvester and Summers is applied to teacher-writers and adolescent students across communities, schooling, and families who must engage “a discourse of power [that] includes the costuming, manners, attitudes, values, and language to fit in quickly and comfortably with the academic culture” (p. 8-9). I suggest that a pedagogy of socially responsible literacy has great potential for teacher educators who seek to support positive social change.

These socially responsible literacies stand out in the public, open, and accessible archive of interconnected ideas via the Digital Archives of Literacy Narratives (DALN). I first became aware of the archive in 2010, and since then I have worked closely with preservice and inservice teachers to experience the DALN in three roles: 1) teacher as writer, 2) teacher as researcher, and 3) teacher as curator. These experiences have demonstrated how the DALN can shape and inform writer identities of preservice teachers in the practice of research, curation, and collaboration as they compose digital-based narratives with socially responsible literacies. In this chapter, writing samples and assignments for both teacher educators and preservice teachers demonstrate what Ríos Vega (2015) called “counterstorytelling narratives” that can blend socially responsible literacies with English language arts teacher education (p. 1).

Teachers who practice and experience a variety of writing activities can model a writing life for students, motivate students to write, and build their mutual confidence in the act of writing (Locke, 2015). A community of writers begins among writers, much like a digital archive involves people with shared interests and a commitment to preserving primary, secondary, and tertiary source documents. Teacher-writer identities can be guided by archival inquiry in which teacher educators and their own adolescent students rethink their perceptions of narratives, especially those collected for public reading, such as those in the DALN. My work includes preparing teachers to work in secondary schools, and the literacy interests and needs of early adolescents and adolescents can be wide-ranging. The DALN makes opportunities for meaning-making both accessible and relevant, supporting socially responsible literacy in our schools and society. In this ethnographic look at preservice teachers’ practices in and out of my classroom, I examine narratives from my undergraduate students that reflect their coming of age as learners, writers, and teachers, and consider how they identify themselves via the DALN and other platforms that include social media and course assignments.

This chapter documents the experience of preservice teachers enrolled in a literacy education course (ENGL 3350) at The University of Texas at El Paso. Personal literacy narrative assignments ideally promote a culture of caring, responsible citizens in the profession and greater civic communities, much as Moore, Salter, Stanley, and Tamboukou (2017) describe. To advance a writer identity among adolescents in secondary-level schools, many educators develop creative and inventive ways that include multimodal literacies in action. Adolescent writers work with many devices, machines, and platforms to create digital and non-digital writing across varied interests and interconnected disciplines for various purposes and audiences (Johnson, 2016). Often, juggling both purpose and audience across media may create conflict, but teachers can create assignments that support ongoing rhetorical practice and production.

Two guiding questions drive this chapter:

  1. What habits do teacher-writers possess as preservice teachers and classroom teachers of record to advance writer identities and writing instruction?
  2. How do teacher-writers persist along with their student-writers—in and out of the classroom—through digital and non-digital writing?

The results highlight productive opportunities to launch and sustain a writer identity among teaching professionals, and to complement the habits of mind of student-writers who practice digital and non-digital writing. Both the chapter and Appendix offer classroom-tested assignments and sample artifacts that support classroom learning and instruction; a few assignments invite teacher-writers to share their personal and professional lives, including their bicultural and bilingual identities, both in and independent of their studies (Soltero, 2016). Specific assignments are featured throughout the chapter with corresponding references to concepts and skills under study and for consideration.

Course Description

3350, English Language Arts Laboratory, is designed to support preservice teachers in the practice of designing, implementing, and analyzing one’s own and others’ teaching lessons as well as pedagogical case methodology that supports teacher-writer and student-writer identities and roles with mentor texts.

As a teacher educator living and working in the one the longest international border corridors, known as the U.S.–México and Chihuahuan Desert borderlands, I must engage my students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge, narrative transactions, and everyday realities. As John Scenters-Zapico, Lou Herman, Kate Mangelsdorf, and Lindsay Hamilton (2014) explain, “literacies include languages other than English and go beyond text-based concepts.” For this reason, the practices and digital writing ideas highlighted throughout this chapter stand to benefit both preservice and inservice teachers as English language arts educators who work with diverse student populations.

The description of ENGL 3350 English Language Arts Laboratory reflects its focus on key teacher-writer identities and skills, habits, and practices, combined with socially responsible literacies and premises advanced by Gallagher (2011) in Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing through Modeling and Mentor Texts:

  1. If we are to build students who grow up to write in the real world, we must move our writing instruction beyond a “cover the state standards” mind-set by introducing our young writers to additional real-world discourses, and
  2. In teaching our students how to write, we must provide them with authentic modeling—modeling that comes from both the teacher and from real-world texts.
  3. As the teacher in the room, each of us must become a mentor.
  4. As such, we must stand next to our students and show them how real writers write. (p. 8)

Gallagher further advises, “our students should also stand next to and study other expert writers. I want my students to ask themselves, ‘What did these writers do that I’d like to try?’” (p. 8). Thus, the teacher as writer is both a model and coach while writing with students in language arts education whose writer identities are emerging.

A Literacy Journey

In the practice of socially responsible literacies, reading and writing become interdependent in a dialogic inquiry. In the following reflection from the course, “My Literacy Journey,” a preservice teacher named Kimberly Torres describes her odyssey into reading and how she was guided by her parents, teachers, and a favorite author for literacy engagement:

The aroma of strong nutty coffee and newly crisp, printed pages aroused my senses as I walked into the bookstore with my father on a Saturday morning, circa 2009, in El Paso, Texas. The popular bookstore had always intrigued me. The times I went I would walk around, admiring the pristine and fresh books, which sat patiently on their shelves. I envied the surrounding people as they engaged themselves in a story, as they sat in a corner, or by a window. I imagined the day when I would appreciate a story and turn the pages of a book, because I wanted to and not because I was forced to do so.

My father had never been an avid reader. However, he appreciated a good book now and then.

“M’ija [my daughter], why don’t you go look around, and I’ll come look for you when I’m done,” he told me.

I nodded and went straight to the Young Adult Books section. I was a sophomore in high school, but I did not particularly love my English language arts class. I really wanted to love it. However, it seemed that every book that was introduced to me in school I found boring and uninteresting.

Moreover, my teachers were not helpful in changing my attitude toward literacy. It was not until I read a book written by my favorite author that helped me learn to appreciate all works of literature and broadened my mind toward different genres of writing. While learning all types of literature is necessary, literature is based on more than what is introduced and taught in school. If students read what interests them, they will learn to love and appreciate all types of literature. I learned that it is hard for someone, especially a student, to relate to a story that she or he does not understand or find compelling.

As I looked at the books on the shelves, I came across a section that pertained to novels that were popular among teenagers. Scanning the shelves, I was determined to find a book that I wanted to read. Although I have always hesitated and abstained from asking my parents for something I wanted, I knew my father probably would not mind buying me a book this one time. He has always stated that reading is learning, learning is to gain knowledge, and having knowledge is important. For this reason, my parents have always expected more from their children. They favored intelligence and obedience, while never neglecting the opportunity to tell us that college is a definite must. Therefore, I knew that an appreciation for reading and writing was significant not just at school, but also in all aspects of our lives, although it took some time for this to resonate with me.

I remember one distinct book that caught my attention. It was titled Paper Towns (2008) by John Green. I also recall reading the synopsis in the back cover and instantly becoming interested: something that was rare when reading books from school.

“What do you have there?” my father asked. I looked up and showed him the book.“Do you want it?”

I remember nodding to him and the next think I recall we were driving back home. My book was open in my lap, and my eyes ran through the words.

The “Prologue” opens:

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become a dictator or a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. (p. 3)

Needless to say, I finished the book, and I fell in love with the story and reading itself. The author sewed words together so poetically with the mysterious adventure I envisioned that I finally connected with and enjoyed reading a book.

Although I learned and succeeded through my high school years, I wished that my teachers had incorporated reading material that related to our lives as students. Growing up and attending public schools in Texas came to reflect a system that followed the passing of a standardized test. Yes, preparing ourselves as students to academic success is crucial, it reflected stress in the classroom. Through months and months of preparation, the lessons in literature became redundant: read a book, answer questions, and write an essay. It was a cycle; it was monotonous. I wished that least my teachers would incorporate different teaching styles, maybe then I thought I would enjoy reading the books that were assigned. However, my teachers were just doing their job, but they cared about our attitudes toward literacy.

“Reading and writing are fun. You’ll learn to appreciate it someday,” I remember my English teacher saying this to us. Although this did not resonate with me at the time and not until I ventured off into reading stories I loved and could relate to in my life, I understood what she meant.

During my latter high school years, I became infatuated with reading, especially the works by John Green. His writing style and the adventures he wrote influences me in more ways that I ever thought possible. Green made me realize that reading is fun, and he made me appreciate all literature, while also inspiring me to write stories of my own. From the day I read the first book I truly enjoyed, I realized there is more to literature than what is taught in school. After turning the last page from Paper Towns, I knew that I had to appreciate all types of literacy. The moments that I had in school, the words of importance my parents and teachers spoke, and the inspiring words of my favorite author have shaped my mindset and implemented me with the advantage of enduring the worlds of literature.

For Kimberly, mixed messages and opportunities appear in her life as she seeks to engage in literacy and find texts that speak to her adolescence. As she comes of age, she must negotiate spaces, identities, and responsibilities as a student-writer and engaged reader—in and out of the classroom setting.

After completing an essay on a literacy memory, the preservice teachers were introduced to the DALN and invited to contribute a digital media essay. The teaching of writing through socially responsible literacies can be complemented by the DALN. Efforts to prepare students for university studies and professional apprenticeships call for more collaborative assignments and writing-based projects. In fact, transferable literacy skills for the world of work and higher education require the expansion of mediated texts written by adolescent students that demonstrate their language practices for various purposes and audiences (Christenbury & Lindblom, 2016). A sample letter by a preservice teacher named Kevin Nguyen appears below and demonstrates socially responsible literacies and literary analysis via friendly business correspondence (see Appendix A and Appendix B):

Kevin Nguyen
The University of Texas at El Paso
Department of English
500 West University Avenue, 119 HUDS
El Paso, TX 79968-0526

2 July 2015

Ms. Isabel Quintero
c/o Cinco Puntos Press
701 Texas Avenue
El Paso, TX 79901-1421

Dear Ms. Quintero:

After enjoying your YA novel Gabi: A Girl in Pieces (2014), I must admit I developed an admiration for your writing. I love that you were able to portray the teenage mind of Gabi in terms of cultural identity, her self-esteem caused by her body, and the processing of social issues that she experienced. The way you were able to format the novel as a diary and the uses of Spanish words and phrases throughout the book was captivating. Yet, with all my admiration for this book and for you as a writer, there are some lingering thoughts and questions that came to me while reading your book.

I really enjoyed this book because it was able to take me back to high school, where I saw people get pregnant and it made me wonder what life must have been like for them. I do my best not to judge others, so when I saw a pregnant girl, I never had negative assumptions of her. Instead, I was shocked and felt bad for her. I felt bad, because I thought that her life was now put on hold because of the child. Finishing school and going to college now became that much harder.

Along with this, I loved the cultural battle and the self-esteem issues that Gabi faced. Being a Vietnamese American and battling with my love for food and my weight issues, I have dealt with similar struggles. It was something I connected with as a reader. I know the battle between your cultural roots and adapting to the American life are not easy. Not to mention, the added pressure that many parents put on you to retain your heritage is just as challenging. I saw how the issues Gabi faced made her grow, which was something I enjoyed, and it gave great meaning to the novel. I say this because each experience that Gabi faced, she had to adapt and face it in order to mature.

Yet, while my thoughts lingered, my questions did as well. I do not wish to overwhelm you with all the questions that I have but instead focus on two main questions that I really thought about with this book. First, what inspired you to write this book? This book is full of the issues that surround teenage life. For you to tie all of the realities and issues together in the manner that you did made the novel not only a great read, but it may help out young adults dealing with similar situations.

Second, how do you think this book would be different if it were not told through Gabi’s perspective, but instead a guy’s or an Asian American’s? This book made me think a lot about perspectives and cultures. It made me wonder if Gabi were a guy or another ethnicity how would things play out for him.

Without a doubt, this was a great read for me. While I wish I could personally interview you about this book, I do not wish to overwhelm you with my never-ending thoughts and questions. Thus, I thank you for writing Gabi, a Girl in Pieces and for taking the time to read and respond to my letter.

Kevin Nguyen

Kevin’s letter communicates his literary interests and cultural knowledge and at the same time displays his student-writer identity with compassion and inquiry. Such literacy practices reflect his acumen and commitment as a future teacher of English language arts and reading.

Teachers as Writers with the DALN: An Overview

The DALN can be a resource for both teacher-writers and adolescent writers to engage in the self-socialization of coming of age, as discussed by Sylvester and Summers (2012). An archive houses artifacts and stories that reveal various points of view and even modes of communication to create meaning, dialogue, and understanding in the presence of privilege and power across schooling and communities. In The Archive Project: Archival Research in the Social Sciences (2017), Moore, Salter, Stanley, and Tamboukou elaborate: “An archive is a repository of some kind; and while for some people this is seen in formal ‘archives of the nation-state’ terms, in fact it can variously also be a building, cardboard-box, photograph album, internet website, or discourse of interconnected ideas such as community heritage and shared memories” (p. 1). For English language arts teachers and their adolescent students, the DALN offers archival and public writing opportunities in a variety of formats (text, video, audio) to:

  1. share literacy experiences;
  2. connect across digital platforms and experiences;
  3. adopt socially responsible literacies; and
  4. maintain student-writer and teacher-writer identities.

As such, the DALN becomes a sponsor of literacy, as described by Deborah Brandt (2009), in enacting, modeling, and supporting a literate citizenry with agency and voice.

My mission as a teacher educator includes guiding preservice teachers to find and maintain writer identities. A writer identity demonstrates writing (literacy) as a digital and non-digital practice or mode of expression and representation as well as a social and cultural act in the making of meaning. For many student-writers, a struggle ensues between writing in demand (chatting, texting, social media), called “digitalk” by Turner and Hicks (2015), and extended writing situations (essays, portfolios, projects). Writing in demand and extending writing situations can create tensions and also opportunities for the teacher. Thus, for teachers, planning instruction and developing assignments require greater reflection and, especially, collaborative research and planning. Such work is essential to support students writers as they write and enact socially responsible literacies, with a deliberate purpose, across digital media and platforms (Hetland, 2017). The DALN can support these pedagogical priorities.

Writing invites observation that foments self-reflection and deeper thinking through rhetorical inquiry, as will be shown in the works produced by students. The experiences of teachers and students in developing a writer identity with the DALN as a sponsor create an interactive classroom and laboratory across concepts, contexts, and disciplines. As expressed in this chapter’s epigraph, Eggers’s perspective about the source of inspiration for writing and writing from “real-life observation” confirms the need to make use of all that is available and present for a writing-based life and fulfilling experience (2011, p. 2). These experiences that become archived also honor all learners and the knowledge—in and out of school settings—they create in their identity formation as writers. Furthermore, their experiences extend across learning and collaborative environments, whether student-writers are enrolled in advanced and honors courses or in heterogenous classrooms (Nurenberg, 2016).

“Every writer’s challenge is returning to the page,” confirms Pat Mora (1994) in her essay titled “A Latina [Writer] in Kentucky” (p. 298). English language arts and literacy educators can attest to this statement—whether facing the blank page or the digital screen in or out of the classroom setting. Locke (2015) describes the “terror of the blank page” yet proposes the “disposition to write” for oneself and the professional self into existence (p. x). Moreover, the challenge to write resonates with many student-writers who are engaged in handwriting through print or using a digital device on a daily basis. Student-writers’ communications reveal their abilities to craft and write for varied audiences with a guiding and intentional purpose, even if they may be unaware of their scribal identities and labors as they participate in and navigate their literacy-driven worlds. The labor to communicate ideas and experience is demanding, but the process can be filled with discovery and fulfillment by responding to literature and society through writing that is archived, yet visible, via the DALN. 

Like student-writers, teacher-writers need support and guidance as they persist toward maintaining and sustaining a writing life that is informed by practice and deliberation. Often, teacher-writers join and maintain membership in professional learning communities and writing groups that extend to digital and non-digital writing as curated in the DALN. By extension, teacher-writers model habits of thinking and responsibilities for writing that complement the literary studies and criticism that include the classics, contemporary classics, and young adult literature. As the National Council of Teachers of English guidelines for “Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing” (2016) note, “Conventions of finished and edited texts are an important dimension of the relationship between writers and readers.” The diversity of texts in the DALN, which permits a variety of formats such as text, video, and audio, encourages planning, researching, writing, editing, curating, and even team writing of narratives for publication and readership. Through digital writing, the purpose and audience for one’s writing expands, with greater affordances to construct the realities in which citizens live and join the literacy citizenry in a democracy with social responsibilities. The practice of writing for a diverse audience and with purpose supports student-writers’ development of their identities along with their private and public voices in formation. To that end, teachers can prepare scoring rubrics that guide student-writers in the development of key variables and concepts relevant to digital composing for the design and investigation of literacy narratives to be collected in the DALN for a greater audience.

Archival Turns and Memories: A Personal Perspective

The practice of using an archive, like the privilege of visiting a museum, may be inaccessible for many who are of working-class backgrounds and whose acts of orature and writing may be viewed as alternate, less than, or perhaps not equal to dominant or mainstream society. In the following reflection by preservice teacher Ashley Gutiérrez, a new voice joins the DALN with key details about coming of age in the bilingual classroom, setting with the stage for socially responsible literacies and an archival turn with affirmation.

“Buenos días, niños. [Good morning, children.] Today, we are joined by a new student,” Ms. Fernández announced.

It was my first day of kindergarten in the United States. I had spent the past four years of my life in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México, so I was still adapting to the change. I did not know English that well, but I understood some.

“¿Cuál es tu nombre?” [What is your name?] she asked.

“Me llamo Victoria,” [I am Victoria.] I answered.

Back then, I liked to use my middle name rather than my first name, since it was easier for my family to pronounce.

Once class started and Ms. Fernández had introduced me to my classmates, we began our first assignment. I read an empty line at the top, right-hand corner of a page that read, “NAME: _____________________.”

I was confused. I stared deeply at the line, and I wondered what I supposed to do. At my former school in Ciudad Juárez—across the Río Bravo—we did not write letters or words at first. We drew and colored. We shared stories and imagination. We did not use pencils; we used markers or crayons. Here, I had to use pencil, because markers were strictly for arts and crafts.

I raised my hand and asked Ms. Fernández what “NAME” meant.
“Eso significa ‘nombre.’ Tienes que escribir tu nombre,”
[It means “name.” You have to write your name.] she explained.

Ashley expresses interest in a wider audience for sharing her story about studying in a neighboring country and adjusting to life in a U.S. public school classroom. In their efforts to engage underrepresented communities, archives like the DALN can be viewed as revisionist and possibly radical, as users put documents in public spaces for viewing and dialogue, in a dynamic more collaborative than selective. Moore, Salter, Stanley, and Tamboukou (2017) describe these changes in archival perspectives and thinking shifts as an “archival turn” and noted the openness and accessibility to making the archive the “preserve of none because they are engaged with by making kinds of people, who use or create them in diverse ways” (p. 2). Their research acknowledges the existence of a canonical or state version that dominates the narrative about what is an archive and what can be constituted as an archive based on its contents.

In a similar vein of redefining archive, although I did not recognize this coming of age, my earliest memories that involve the act of writing involve artifacts, pictures, and voices in family collections of stored books, decrees, images, notebooks, photographs, prayers, recipes, recordings, songs, and additional writings. Pressed flowers and garden seeds from the earth appeared for preservation and as mementos—from familiar hands and stories—for another’s planting, harvest, and passage. Growing up, I had not considered these as examples of an archive or even as legitimate archival content. Archives, including their maintenance and expansion, belonged to someone else.

In my schooling and everyday world, the word archive became associated with elite institutions and privately-funded museums—unlike a bureau, cabinet, or chest in my family home, containing artifacts and immediate histories and memories to treasure and maintain across generations. A divide existed in the usage and practice of the word archive that I understood and even followed in regards to what constituted representation and rightful placement and validation in an archive. However, one vivid recollection that changed this perspective was a school-sponsored field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In the early 1980s, our elementary school teachers organized an annual visit to the Houston Museum District. The energy and excitement built up over time, and we were thrilled to travel from Magnolia Park, a Latino quarter of Houston, to a museum far across town. Our teachers and some parents joined us on our museum journey. For many of us, including a few teachers and most of our parents, this was our first trip to a public museum in our native city.

A museum arts education curator greeted us warmly and then invited us to the museum foyer and asked, “Students, to whom does this museum belong? Carry this question with you as you explore. We will answer this question later.” Her question informed not only our trip, but my life work in the humanities and social sciences. As fledgling patrons of the museum, we wandered and wondered through the collections and exhibitions, thinking of an answer and also trying to stay together as we explored and focused. We avoided the possibility of becoming lost as museum guests and young people in a growing crowd. The open space of the museum called us to explore, but also to run and touch and feel. We reminded ourselves to be orderly and quiet, as strict rules governed our visit.

Midway through our museum tour, the curator informed us, “This museum belongs to you and all of Houston. Yes, it is yours.” The news came as a surprising welcome for young thinkers in formation and in a new space—far from our home and school. The possibilities during and after this museum visit enlarged our worlds and my later associations with the word archive. The openness and welcome extended to some of the youngest thinkers and learners on a school field trip influenced how I positioned my identity, story, and even sense of belonging—as a museum patron, archival user, and learner—then and now.

As I pursued my university studies in the humanities and later the social sciences, I witnessed the efforts of scholars and curators to engage the public in stories and histories immediate to lives once indistinct or even on the margin. Indeed, in various forms the relationship between the private and the public, and the exclusive and the common, became more accessible and open. Over the years, academic and digital technologies have expanded our definition of accessibility and usability as more citizens connect to literacies and production of these literacies across archives such as the DALN and also across borders, cultures, histories, and time.

Teacher and Student-Writers in Context: National and Local

In secondary classrooms, teacher-writers serve as guides and coaches for their adolescent students as they work together to mediate various literate cultures, clarify ideas, identify relationships, read closely, and make meaning in the world. In a StoryCorps segment, educator Antero Garcia reflects with Roger Alvarez (2012) , a former high school student who once abandoned his studies. Alvarez provides glimpses of what he was facing, feeling, and enduring as an adolescent student enrolled in Garcia’s English language arts classroom; he expresses his gratitude for the care and teaching he received. As revealed in this recording, teachers hold tremendous responsibilities and have significant influence on student learning, understanding, and opportunities.

Teachers’ responsibilities can be shaped by the professional learning and organizations that influence their classroom practice and writer identity formation. Through the National Writing Project (NWP), a professional learning initiative with sites across the country, teachers work closely with other educators to design writing resources that effect change and growth in the lives of young writers and learners. Digital writing is informed by NWP’s basic tenets, which support writing instruction and identities for student-writers and teacher-writers alike:

  1. To teach writing, you need to be able to write.
  2. Students should respond to each other’s writing.
  3. The teacher should act as writer alongside the students, and be prepared to undertake the same assignments as the students.
  4. There is research about the teaching of writing that needs to be considered and applied, where appropriate, in the classroom.
  5. Teachers can be their own researchers in the classroom.
  6. The best teacher of writing teachers is another writing teacher.
  7. Various stages of the writing process need to be mapped and practiced. These include pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, conferencing (see number 2 above) and publishing. (Andrews, 2008, p. 8)

As signposts, these tenets provide guidance and support for the writing culture to be fostered in classrooms across the disciplines for a writer identity for the teacher and student alike. Not surprisingly, the DALN has become a repository for many artifacts produced by student-writers whose teachers are active NWP participants.

In Summer 2016, my teacher-writer identity was strengthened through my participation in the Invitational Summer Institute hosted by Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University, San Marcos. The model of “teachers teaching teachers” supports community-based professional learning and growth across learning levels: pre-kindergarten to graduate-level studies. As teacher-writers, we learned how other teachers write in their own lives and with their students, as well as how literary studies and social responsibility intersect with crafting one’s voice, writing toward meaning making, and researching concepts and sources to confirm their veracity and application. The dynamics of a writing life across schooling and higher education propelled us to engage in writing communities and to establish trust with our students as we write together (Locke, 2015). Essentially, teachers must write with their students to effect change, and so students can sustain a writing life beyond the classroom and their teachers’ guidance. To do such work, teacher-writers engage with their teacher-writer colleagues via writing groups to complement expertise and design digital writing pedagogies that work for students.

For Armando Corona, a preservice teacher enrolled in ENGL 3350, teachers and books can be life-changing. His essay “The Rectangle Book” is presented here as an example of socially responsible literacies and pedagogies that leads to engagement and independence:

Reading and writing were not my favorite things to do. They both consume a lot of time, and make your brain work harder. Literacy is what can keep this world moving. Learning about literacy influenced my life and my decision to become an English language arts educator.

Early literacy was first introduced to me in kindergarten by my teacher Ms. López. It was awful having to hear Ms. López sing to the class the alphabet every morning, but it worked. I remember that the path of literacy learning was not a very easy one. Kindergarten has so many distractions that a student can lose focus. I was the student who preferred to draw shapes on my desk, color pictures on paper, and play at recess.

The day one form of print literacy was introduced to me is a day I will never forget. Ms. López called our attention and showed us a large picture book in rectangle shape that displayed a cat with a hat. The book was titled The Cat in the Hat (1957) by Dr. Seuss. The book was like a magnet to my eyes, and my eyes could not resist.

Ms. López read the opening lines of the book, and I noticed that the rhythm of the book was repetitive and easy to remember:

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day.

I sat there with Sally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, “How I wish
We had something to do!” (pp. 1-2)

Not only did I enjoy hearing the reading, but I also liked how every page featured a different illustration that told a story, too. I was finally engaged in literacy. This little book made me want to read more for myself. The following day I went the school library. I checked out multiple books by Dr. Seuss. The library was a place I had never experienced or witnessed. The moment I did I felt a sense of independence. Reading was all I wanted to do from that day forward. Ms. López changed my life by showing me that books should not be feared, but rather wanted and praised.

Every day our class continued hearing and reading a new book until one day Ms. López invited us to write. This was something completely new to me.

Ms. López walked around to every student’s table and placed a plain white sheet of paper with eight black lines running across the page. I was anxiously waiting for the next string of words to come out her mouth. Suddenly, she spoke and directed us all to write what we liked about school. There was so much I liked about school! However, I had to fit it all on the paper she gave me. How was I to do this?

My answer was to just write about Dr. Seuss’s books. I picked up the pencil, and I wrote as much as I could. I did not have a very good vocabulary, but I used what I had and knew. This was all amazing, because I was putting all my thoughts and feelings together about school on a page. It was my first writing assignment ever. I felt confident when she gave me check mark, which meant a perfect score. As I grew older, writing became my new passion.

Overall, literacy impacts my life. Reading and writing are my ways of expressing myself in society. Ms. López is the main reason why I have chosen to major in English language arts and reading. I want to become an English educator to invite and help students succeed in reading and writing. We need literacy to move forward. Thus, I feel privileged to experience the love of language arts and literacy education.

Building a relationship between the teacher-writer and student-writer fosters trust for meaning making and creating narratives for a widely read and accessible collection like the DALN. As Smith and Wrigley (2016) argue,

Teachers’ writing groups offer the possibility of personal and professional autonomy. Through writing together and sharing pedagogy, teachers gain authority as teachers of writing. Whilst teachers do write for themselves without belonging to a group, a community of writers strengthens and extends learning. Together teachers discover and re-assert their knowledge as reflective classroom practitioners. The group creates a safe place where ideas and writing can be shared and where one can rely on a trusted audience. (p. 3)

The benefits of writing groups for teachers extend to student-writers who gain greater authority as writers with a writer identity. They, too, must belong to a community that strengthens and extends their development and growth as a writer, as made visible with a public persona of literacy narratives via the DALN with a scoring rubric (see Appendix D). In ENGL 3350, all preservice teachers were required to produce a Digital Literacy Narrative:

Project: A Digital Literacy Narrative

Artifacts, or objects… are present in everyone’s life. Memories of objects are powerful pulls on identity… Objects are handed down, over generations, some brought from foreign trips as mementos. These objects are special, and they tell stories… Artifacts bring in everyday life. They are material, and they represent culture. (Pahl & Rowsell, 2010, p. 1-2)

Purpose and Background

The purpose of this assignment is to share and understand perspectives about your literacy life with the “elements of literacy,” which are: knowing, listening, memorizing, noticing, observing, performing, questioning, reading, speaking, thinking (metacognition), understanding and YOU as literate citizen, viewing, and writing or wonderment (Rodríguez, 2016).

A Digital Literacy Narrative (DLN) is a reflective story about the elements of literacy in connection with adolescence and young adulthood. The narrative focuses on a particular artifact such as an event, object, or text as well as a personal influence on literacy interests, practices, and habits. With your permissions, your DLN will be uploaded to the Digital Archives of Literacy Narratives (DALN) at The Ohio State University.


Your assignment is to create a digital literacy narrative video that provides perspective about a literacy artifact or moment. Include a critical reflection about how your attitudes about literacy or literature have changed to the present and be sure to comment on these influences.

The video should be between 2 and 4 minutes in length. Be sure to incorporate the following: footage, still or scanned images (photos of book covers, papers, report cards, or other artifacts), voiceover, music, AND text into the video.

The Use of Technology

  • Video camera / digital camera / cell phone for shooting footage and photos
  • Photoshop for editing images
  • iMovie for editing videos
  • Additional tools for storytelling
  • Vimeo for publishing videos
  • Text boxes with details

Evaluation Criteria [15 points total]

  1. Guiding Question:  Awareness of purpose and audience for narrative
  2. Content:  A well-told story with a sufficient amount of reflection on literacy
  3. Mechanics:  An application of academic and technical writing standards
  4. Presentation Appeal:  Use of Aristotlean ethos, logos, and pathos with technology
  5. Citation and Credits:  Use of MLA-style documentation and provides a credits list


Your literacy narrative will be evaluated by your professor. It will be uploaded to Vimeo, so please do not share personal information that you do not want to be made public for our course or the general public. Technical assistance is available in our digital laboratory.

Guiding Questions for Your Narrative (choose ONE only)

  1. Did your parents and/or teachers read to you when you were young? What kinds of literature did they read to you? What is your earliest memory of this?
  2. Which literary character resonates with you and your life? How?
  3. Is there an autobiography, novel, poem, play, or story that influenced you in a positive way?
  4. Does one person stand out as your literacy sponsor—the person who guided you and encouraged you in your efforts to learn and practice the elements of literacy? Who?
  5. When did you begin to read on your own? What sorts of books did you read as an adolescent or young adult?
  6. Currently, do you have sufficient access to the print and digital books you want to read?
  7. How often do you engage in literacy today? Which literacy practices have you adopted?
  8. How did you learn to practice one of the elements of literacy? Do you enjoy it?
  9. When did you use the elements of literacy to achieve something significant?
  10. How important are your literacy abilities to your life?
  11. Do you think your literacy skills, practices, and habit will develop or change in the future? Which ones do you think in particular?
  12. Which artifact in particular serves as a symbol of your adolescence or young adulthood?


Pahl, K, & Rowsell, J. (2010). Artifactual literacies: Every object tells a story. New  York, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Rodríguez, R. J. (2017). Enacting adolescent literacies across communities: Latino/a scribes and their rites. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Note: Special thanks are extended to the Digital Archives of Literacy Narratives (DALN) at The Ohio State University for their project innovation and for the advancement of literacies.

In addition, based on students’ questions and concerns, I offer a list of Frequently Asked Questions:

Frequently Asked Questions about the Digital Literacy Narrative

  1. What’s a Digital Literacy Narrative (DLN)? A digital literacy narrative is a reflective story about the elements of literacy in connection with adolescence and young adulthood. The narrative focuses on a particular artifact such as an event, object, or text as well as a personal influence on literacy interests, practices, and habits.
  2. I want a final exam with multiple-choice questions. Why can’t you just give me that? Students must apply close reading and critical thinking with academic writing standards. This must happen in traditional print and current multimodal literacies that include digital writing and production. Multiple-choice exams do not require critical thinking, but measure lower-level skills with little or no elaboration. Deeper thinking is essential in our democracy.
  3. I am afraid of cameras, but my writing has improved this semester. What can I do? This is normal and can be overcome. Plan in advance and write your script with good footage and editorial skills.
  4. I’m really tired. Sometimes I can procrastinate. My friend says, “Just do it any ol’ way, man. Así como sea.” Can I just record anything randomly and post it for credit? No, you may not. Plan ahead, have a script with an essential or guiding question, and use multimedia to create a quality digital video.
  5. Do I have to create my own digital video, or can I ask or pay somebody to do it? Academic honesty is a policy and requirement. Any deviation from this will have consequences and loss of credit.
  6. Does my name have to appear and credit with subtitles? Yes, please add your name on the first panel and have credits for any music used. It is helpful to have some information for your audience and viewers as they move from one theme to another.
  7. Do I need to have some text included in my Digital Literacy Narrative? Yes, text is necessary and helpful for the viewer. Be sure the text you create is correct with spelling and punctuation. Provide text to reveal details about the following: full name; your essential or guiding question; captions where necessary; credits and reference.s
  8. Everybody I ask is too busy or doesn’t want to help me. Where can I go for help? Many technicians want to help, especially those who benefit from the student fees you pay each semester. Drop by the laboratory or library.
  9. Why do I need to have an essential or guiding question?  The guiding question is essential for a narrative, so we have a focus about what will be addressed and answered. A few sample questions are provided in our syllabus as well as on Blackboard.
  10. Where can I find the assignment, guiding questions, rubric, and instructions to upload my video?  All of these documents and the DLN information are posted on the course web page.

In one sample narrative, Lauren Terrazas (2015) reflects on her emerging writer identity, literacy journey, and writing persistence to make meaning happen, despite the rote learning she endured and questions about the ethics of responsible teaching. Terrazas’s submission reveals the elaborate experience and layers of meanings and perspectives that could only be achieved by the DALN’s “transnational ‘thirdspaces’ of literacy” (Ulman, DeWitt, & Selfe, 2013).

Teachers can plan for and support newly connected and digital worlds that respect and value adolescent students’ lives and expressions. This includes their background and cultural knowledge as they make meaning as digital writers, editors, publishers, and reporters. Student-writers’ identities also include their personal identifications and how they define themselves in relation to factors such as race, gender, sexuality, and ethnic and popular cultures. In This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education (2014), José Luis Vilson insists, “[Teachers] can prompt students to ask critical questions. You can inspire them to aspire… You can be as realistic about our country’s expectations and as idealistic about our children’s futures as you need to be” (p. 215). By asking critical questions with student-writers as we teacher-writers both question and compose together, we are launching and sustaining the dialogue that writing calls for, including the community of trust that must be established and maintained across class iterations (see Appendix C and D). In fact, as teacher educators, we benefit from sharing resources in our writing groups that can translate as classroom-tested and good practices with our professional acumen. The dynamics that unfold among student-writers and teacher-writers as they compose in society further advances conversations about socially responsible literacies.

As an example, two DALN-based assignments were designed to elicit metacognitive persistence, cultural knowledge, and literacy experiences via digital writing. The two writing prompts are influenced by my pedagogical practices based on socially responsible literacies and instruction via a friendly letter and narrative poem (see Appendix E). The assignments foster students’ critical awareness about literacy and expose them to related, interconnected, and digital stories and lives that provide lenses to meaning making and identify affirmation of teachers in formation and students as adolescents. 

Teachers Changing Minds: Socially Responsible Literacies with Assignments

Teachers can support digital and non-digital writing that they plan, assign, and evaluate in their student-writers’ roles as scribes by instilling a love for world languages and literatures with resources across time, disciplines, models, and societies. Assignments that I adopt at the beginning of each semester ask students to share what they wished I knew as their professor, which questions they have always wanted to ask a professor, and how they engage in literacy habits in their lives that can inform the course and inquiry about literature. My students’ written contributions inform decisions I make on literary selections and written assignments and translate to their digital lives (see Appendix F).

To plan writing instruction, teacher-writers must know what they want their students to accomplish as student-writers, or scribes. Teacher-writers must know how they will determine if the student-writers gained understanding. The activities student-writers will experience for learning and understanding must be planned in advance. Based on McTighe and Wiggins’s (2013) method of backward design and Sassi and Gere’s (2014) reading strategies, essential or guiding questions are recommended for student-writers’ inquiry. These questions can guide participation in the DALN and highlight student-writers’ literacy practices and values:

  1. Why am I writing? Who is my audience?
  2. What do close readers do, especially when they struggle for meaning and understanding?
  3. How do writers capture and maintain their readers’ attention?
  4. How are narratives about the past and present connected to me?
  5. Which approaches can I adopt to communicate my thinking and argument?

The act of close reading is not new to language and literacy studies, but the application of literacy strategies with concepts that transfer across the disciplines is a productive way of teaching, learning, and writing for understanding, even in an age of high-stakes, standardized testing that rarely invites higher-order thinking skills, such as creating or synthesis, as noted in the Bloom et al. Taxonomy (Le Sage, 2016). In recent years, more student-writers apply inquiry-based strategies with close reading and deeper thinking with digital writing competencies in action. Such approaches to writing are occurring at a rapid pace to meet the needs of academic writing and on-demand writing.

In The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy, Brandt (2014) observed the current multiple roles and responsibilities performed daily by scribes: “The status of writing as a dominant form of labor in the U.S. economy puts an unusual degree of pressure on people’s scribal skills, as their writing literacy is deeply pulled into manufacturing, processing, mining, and distributing information and knowledge” (p. 16-17). What teacher-writers want from their student-writers, who are essentially scribes in and out of the classrooms, is to meet the varying writing circumstances and situations they will face in the academic and professional careers. Thus, teacher-writers can support their students by making use of their background knowledge and understanding, which includes social media and digital writing in their everyday lives.


To support the study of writing and literature in secondary schools and foster a responsible society, teacher-writers must acknowledge that their student-writers contribute digital, cultural, and linguistic wealth that give form to our contemporary cultural landscape and knowledge society. Students’ literacy abilities resemble those of the ancient scribes, who understood the complex arts of writing across various media during a period Sandra Cisneros (2015) calls “BC—Before Computers” (p. 3). Historically, in many societies, scribes wrote books and documents by hand, intertwining hieroglyphics, cuneiform, and other forms of scripted text. The earliest scribes’ contributions were significant in the formation of civilizations and cultures, and the spirit of their multimodal composing practices is present today, as shown via the DALN.

Working closely with student-writers in secondary-level schools, teacher-writers can help develop strong writer identities that then complement researcher and curator roles by using the resources of the DALN. Working alongside adolescents and with other teacher-writers, literacy professionals learn that students favor reading and writing experiences that reflect their own life choices and questions in both public and private spaces they enter with scribal identities. These choices and questions can be explored through both literacy classics and contemporary classics in English language arts and additional world languages that value the variety of scribal identities that appear in the DALN.  

On a daily basis, students depend on the elements of literacy: knowing, listening, memorizing, noticing, observing, performing, questioning, reading, speaking, thinking (metacognition), understanding, viewing, and writing or wonderment (Rodríguez, 2017). In the classroom, these elements are supported and enacted to ensure that literacies are alive and present for close reading, conceptual understanding, and digital writing. In the writing classroom, this can be a boon if teacher-writers intentionally draw upon these literacy elements at all stages of their pedagogy: planning, instruction, activities, and evaluation. In short, Klinkenborg (2012) advises the scribe, “Your job as a writer is making sentences… Writing well and reading well mean paying attention to all the subtleties embodied in a sentence” (p. 13, 16).

Critical literacy theory examines and questions relationships of identity, literacy, power, and privilege. Ernest Morrell (2009) insists, “Classroom practitioners, their students, and the researchers who work in classrooms with them are uniquely positioned to develop projects that show how a humanizing literacy education can develop important literacy skills as it promotes social critique and social action” (p. 99). As demonstrated in this chapter, teacher-writers and student-writers interact with a variety of texts as close readers and deep thinkers in order to name their adolescent lives, document their literary journeys, and challenge perceptions.

Today, student-writers must navigate language and decode text in various formats and on multiple devices and platforms. In fact, as they labor through these literacies and meanings, students bring into secondary classrooms background and prior knowledge that can be instructive for the study of literature, writing, and society. The definitions of the word “archive” I held long ago and those I practice today working with the DALN reveal the literacy journey of a teacher educator; we must remain teachable if we are to experience, with Lauren Terraza, that “Writing is much more than just putting ink on paper.” Indeed, writing is thinking and all that language arts embodies in the making of meaning and communication.

Teacher-writers must be deliberate in their roles as language arts educators in the literary readings and writing projects that they assign, cultural and linguistic connections they discuss, and overall concepts that they seek to advance through writing in our field and across the disciplines. In short, teacher-writers can value the full range of genres, platforms, and communications that their student-writers select as scribes by using the DALN and adopting media that complement socially responsible literacies. As teacher educators, we can support the development of writer identities, along with the related roles of researcher and curator, by encouraging the continued writing, study, and collection of digital literacy narratives.


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