Identity Literacy: Reading and Teaching Texts as Resources for Identity Formation

From Section:
Theories & Approaches
May. 01, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 114 Number 5, 2012

Literacy has been traditionally posited as a primary educational goal.
Cultural literacy and critical literacy are two conceptual models frequently used to understand the essence of literacy and why it is a worthy educational goal.
Each model prescribes different curricular goals and preferred teaching practice in educational settings spanning all disciplines and age groups.

In this article, the authors suggest a third conceptual model, identity literacy, based in developmental psychology’s concept of identity.
The authors define identity literacy as readers’ proficiency and willingness to engage the meaning systems embedded within texts and to consider adopting them as part of their own personal meaning system—that system within which they define themselves and their relation to the world.

Focus of Study

The concept emerged from a qualitative study focusing on high school teachers who primarily teach texts in the classroom.
The study examined their goals and justifications for their chosen practices of teaching texts and examined these in light of extant literature regarding literacy, and the literature on identity development.

Setting and Participants
Twelve expert teachers of the curricular subject of Jewish thought taught in the Israeli nonreligious school sector participated in the study.

Research Design
Qualitative methodology was used to explore teachers’ ideas regarding teaching texts. Teachers were interviewed twice: once regarding their life story, reasons for becoming a teacher, and general goals in teaching, and once after they were observed teaching, regarding their reflections on the practices they employed in teaching texts.
Common themes were identified using techniques based in grounded theory analysis.


Three themes regarding teachers’ ideas on the proper way to teach texts emerged from the analysis:
Good textual study is potentially personally meaningful;
good teaching accentuates the potential of texts to trigger identity processes in the reader; and for students to learn to read in this manner, a particular stance toward texts needs to be taught.


The concept of identity literacy is suggested as an alternative conceptual lens with which to frame the purpose and practice of teaching texts in the classroom that may be relevant to teachers in a broad range of school disciplines.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Literacy | Models | Teachers’ ideas | Texts