Background/Context: Literacy has been traditionally posited as a primary educational goal. The concept is now understood in the literature as extending way beyond the mere technicalities of proficiency in reading and writing, encompassing a broad range of skills and practices related to comprehension, communication, and the ability to use texts in multiple settings. 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, we suggest a third conceptual model, identity literacy, based in developmental psychology’s concept of identity. We 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. Setting identity literacy as a goal of teaching frames the practice of teaching texts differently than the other models.
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 served as the empirical foundation for developing the concept.
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.
Findings/Results: 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.
Conclusions/Recommendations: 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.