How Creating a “Textual Lineage” Launches a Year-Long Conversation

Cody Miller

by | 08.12.19

Cody Miller is an educator in Florida. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMillerELA.

For the past several years, my ninth grade students and I have started the school year by compiling a timeline of texts that have helped shape who they are today. Work by fellow educators Alfred Tatum and Emily Chiariello inspired me to try this project. At first, students are hesitant to include texts that aren’t books. They’ve been socialized to think that only certain texts are worthy of discussion. Part of this project is challenging textual hierarchies and accepting the idea that any text can matter – not just the canonical novels they’re used to encountering in school, but also their favorite songs and movies. All texts are created in a cultural landscape, and all texts can play a role in shaping our identity.

It leads to a lot of interesting conversations. We look at the common traits among our texts and ask, ‘What types of texts are we inspired by? Books? Movies? TV shows?’ We also look at who is the author of these texts. We discuss not just what we are reading, but also who is represented in the media we’re drawn to – and we talk about how our own identity compares to the identities represented in our timelines.

To support our students in considering identity, I think it’s important for teachers to first understand who we are and how our own textual lineages have shaped our identities and outlooks. I do this project alongside my students, and I model the work by naming my own identity: I’m a cisgendered queer white male.

I then invite my students to name their own identities, and we look at the identities represented in the texts we read. We talk about whose stories get told most often – and whose stories we haven’t heard. And in the spring, we revisit our textual lineages to talk about the new texts that have influenced us over the course of the year. What new stories have we encountered? What new voices have we sought out?

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