In Sheridon Blau's article on Performative literacy, he defines performative literacy to be “an enabling knowledge—knowledge that enables readers to activate and use all the other forms of knowledge that are required for the exercise of anything like a critical or disciplined literacy” (19). in this definition of performative literacy he is taking into account the other two forms of literacy which he regards as foundational, “textual literacy” and “intertextual literacy”. Textual literacy is the basic skills of reasoning and evidence based argumentation, making arguments and supporting them with evidence form a text. Intertextual literacy being the ability to use one's cultural knowledge, the knowledge of everything someone knows in order to understand and make judgements about a text beyond what is stated explicitly in the text. Performative literacy is the ability to use both of those forms of literacy and having those skills enables you to go beyond them and engage, select and interact with texts in a way “that has always been possessed by the intellectual and literary elite of every culture” (Blau 18). He sees this upper limit of literacy held by scholars as the ultimate goal of literacy and education.
Blau continues to define performative literacy more specifically in seven main points. These points outline a students ability to engage with texts in ways that force them to question what they do and do not understand, how they understand something and be comfortable working intensely on a text with ambiguity being a normal and safe outcome of this entire process. It is in practicing and recognizing the process of reading, the failures that come with reading and the value of risks and problems as a desirable process that students will become comfortable working with even more difficult texts and will be able to better deal with their own difficulties if they understand and are comfortable working in this reading process with unstable and changing outcomes. Blau then briefly outlines some strategies that could facilitate the learning of performative literacy which I have integrated into a specific curriculum activity that could be used in a high school English classroom setting.
The basis of this activity follows Blau's assertion that performative literacy “is taught in a way that recognizes that reading, like writing, is a process of text construction” (21). The emphasis will be placed on a method that directly and closely associates reading with other methodical processes learned in schools and in life. By taking an approach to reading that closer resembles the scientific method than the divine experiences of the Romantic poets, students will be forced to engage with reading like they would be engaging an experiment or writing assignment.
To begin everyone would take a previously unread text (you could use a short story or essay as an example here) and form and write hypotheses of what the main theme or thesis of the text is based on the author and title of the work using both textual and intertextual literacy skills. At this point the focus of the activity will be made explicitly clear that whether or not your hypothesis is correct or not is not the desired outcome, but rather the differences between your hypotheses that you will continually reshape and reimagine throughout the reading of the text. Students will be asked to rewrite their hypothesis at specific intervals and identify challenges in the text to their hypothesis, as well as things they do not understand, and upon the third time doing this start to identify if the previous challenges can be worked with in reshaping their hypothesis or not. This will be done at least 4 times or more, depending on the length of the text or as is appropriate. At the end of the article students will first be asked to identify the main differences in their hypotheses, the difficulties faced throughout, what difficulties remain and what ones students were able to work with eventually and finally thoughts and conclusions drawn from the differences identified in the entire process of reading. Mixing in discussion during and afterwards to go along with the written component of the reading process will help cement reading as an extremely important process of its own, and the next steps would be to use the text and what was learned from the activity in the next class's writing activity to show that the reading and writing are both important processes that require attention and focus, rather than just reading through a text to get to the process of writing.
Students will most likely find this method of reading challenging at first simply because it is not often done this way in current English classrooms, but the exercises specific structure and prompts will act as a buffer to this. Obviously the rigidity does eliminate some creativity, but the continuation of this reading process throughout the semester would involve gradual but decreasing rigidity while hopefully maintaining the structure's process building outcomes. The desired learning outcomes of this activity is that it is repeated throughout the reading of varying texts during the semester, so that students will engage the process of reading with focus and tolerance for varying ideas and understandings of texts, and the ability to engage with difficulties and ambiguities in texts.
Blau, S. ( 2003). Performative Literacy: The Habits of Highly Literate Readers. Voices from the Middle, 10(3).