Encouraging a civic literacy: A pedagogy of self -reflection, agency, and action

Susan L DeRosa, University of Rhode Island


Students enter college composition courses with preconceived ideas about literacy. Literacy myths restrict the ways that students engage in writing activities and limit their development and perceptions of themselves as writers. To overcome these barriers, writers should become active participants in the construction of their literacy development. ^ A composition pedagogy should encourage writers to redefine their literacy as continuously changing and as a fluid concept—a literacy of possibilities. Composition researchers and pedagogues should find ways to re-conceptualize literacy as fluid changing from context to context—or, as Deborah Brandt (1998) suggests, literacy in flux. Jay Robinson (1998) calls for a pedagogy that encourages civic literacy among students: developing agency, engaging in conversations, and drawing on Freire's “praxis,” taking actions that produce change based on critical self-reflection. ^ This study contends that a pedagogy of civic literacy encourages writers to critically reflect on their literacy practices in different genres and contexts. Literacy narratives provide opportunities for writers to engage in necessary critical self-reflection. ^ This qualitative teacher-research study examines the literacy narratives of fifteen writers in a first-year composition course. Student-written narratives were analyzed to determine ways in which continuous self-reflective writing encouraged civic literacy. Discourse analysis of students' narratives was conducted. Descriptions of the category development process and coding system are provided. Three criteria are indicated that suggest awareness of civic literacy in students' narratives in this study. ^ Literacy narratives are valuable genres for writers to reflect on their literacy development. Reflective writing helps students to (1) identify roles and responsibilities as writers; (2) define literacy as continuous rhetorical choices and as a fluid process; and (3) become active participants in their literacy development. As active participants, students are encouraged to engage in civic literacy, to enact change through writing, and to contribute to a broader critical dialogue on literacy issues. A composition pedagogy that asks writers to be self-reflective, re-define their “literacies,” and use writing to enact changes in communities encourages a civic literacy. Conclusions suggest that literacy narratives offer pedagogical benefits and benefits to writers. Further composition research is needed to explore connections between self-reflective discourse and civic literacy. ^

Subject Area

Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Susan L DeRosa, "Encouraging a civic literacy: A pedagogy of self -reflection, agency, and action" (2000). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9999533.