Chapter 6: 21st-century media and issues

6.8 Identity and emotional literacy (synthesis)

Anonymous English 102 Writer

February 2021

We are nothing without a sense of self; and we begin this process of figuring ourselves out by first discovering how we feel about things. Being able to translate how we feel into opinions and ideas that we can share is an exceedingly important life skill. The shift from egocentrism during early adolescence to developing empathy and perspective are a direct result to having a rudimentary ability to process emotions. Teaching emotional literacy has been thoroughly researched and is best learned through support from parental figures and when it is actively taught in schools. In previous generations, fiscal support has been the primary method of care and now in recent generations emotional support has become more of a priority. Due to this new prioritization, schools have incorporated programs across the country that are designed to encourage children to express themselves. Finding your own identity during adolescence is imperative to development and directly stems from emotional literacy.  

But what is emotional literacy? To answer this question a broader question needs to be posed first. “What is Literacy?” by James Paul Gee provides an answer. Gee explains literacy as discourses and identity kits. (Gee 1) “Think of a discourse as an “identity kit” which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act and talk so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize.” (Gee 1) He then goes further in depth to explain how these discourses and identity kits are acquired. The two main methods for attaining an identity kit are learning and acquisition; learning is defined as “…conscious knowledge gained through teaching … involves explanation and analysis, that is, breaking down the thing to be learned into its analytic parts.” (Gee 3) Acquisition is defined as “…acquiring something subconsciously by exposure to models and a process of trial and error, without a process of formal teaching.” (Gee 3) The final aspect of Gee’s theory of Literacy is when the identity kit was acquired. The options for that are primary discourses: what you learn from family that comes naturally, and secondary discourses: the things we learn outside of our homes and families. (Gee 4-5)  


Teaching emotional literacy is most beneficial at an early age that way their transition away from egocentrism to becoming aware of other people and their perspective is smooth. However, it is just as important to acquire an emotional literacy identity kit through acquisition as it is through learning. I would also argue that for a child to have a true understanding and to have the best possible application of emotional literacy in their future, the identity kit should be both primary and secondary. Having a positive role model in a child’s life aids the foundation of emotional competency; this would mean that the child would have attained the identity kit through acquisition as a primary discourse. However, studies have shown that while support from home is one of the most important things in a child’s life, being taught the same emotional skills from a school program is comparable. When both of these experiences are present in a child’s life, they are best prepared to process big emotions that will prevent harmful behavior in the future due to trauma. When a child learns from an early age how to process how they feel, they are able to further express themselves and handle tough situations in the future.  

I am a preschool music teacher and I very specifically teach the children about their emotions. I make it a point to not only ask but to help and teach them express how they feel. My work does not have any sort of program designed to help the children with emotional literacy and expressing themselves. Due to this, I have taken it upon myself to best prepare my students by making sure they feel heard and worthy. I do this through my music classes because art and music are a wonderful way of self-expression and are a catalyst for developing your own identity. Though music can assist emotional growth in children, the first step is incorporating school programs and making access to school counselors readily available.   

“Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School” by Stephanie M. Jones, Sophie P. Barnes, Rebecca Bailey, and Emily J. Doolittle is about SEL (social and emotional learning) and how incorporating these practices into elementary schools are extremely beneficial for children. (Stephanie M. et. al. 49) This creates a better learning environment that is better tailored learning experience and more effectively teaches children problem solving skills. (Stephanie M. et. al. 50) This creates a domino effect that allows children to be better prepared for problems that might occur in their lives and be able to handle them properly without being destructive. The article divided the children into two groups; the first was long term benefits and results in the following categories: cognitive, emotional, social, behavioral, and academic, and the second group was the same benefits but in short term. (Stephanie M. et. al. 51) 

The study was broken into the setting, SEL program targets, program components (which includes teacher and parent training), and the outcome. (Stephanie M. et. al. 54) This study reviewed 11 programs that are already implemented in schools to find which one is the best in the following categories: cognitive, social, emotional, academic, and behavioral. (Stephanie M. et. al. 54) The setting is about where the program was implemented. This could be in an entire school, in just a classroom, or it can be an individual student. SEL program target establishes which school program focuses on and can evaluate its strong and weak points. (Stephanie M. et. al. 55) Program components include how much time would be spent implementing said programs into the school and coaching for teachers, staff, and parents. (Stephanie M. et. al. 55) 

The results of this study showed the program SecondStep was the best for schools because it scored well in all of the categories. Children were found to be more mindful, use the emotional literacy skills they had learned, better life satisfaction, and a positive effect on managing emotions. (Stephanie M. et. al. 60) This was the best program of the 11 because of the repetition in the classrooms and the evaluation of the students. When I was in elementary school, SecondStep was a program that I was involved in. From second to fifth grade, we began every day by saying the seven healthy habits and doing the hand motions with them. I believe that the repetition in the classroom was a great catalyst to me wanting to be a therapist. This is also why I stress creating a positive learning environment for my own students. I had such an exceedingly beneficial experience, and I will do everything I can to not only provide that foundation to my students but also be a positive role model.  

“Learning, Selfhood, and Pragmatic Identity Theory: Towards a Practical and Comprehensive Framework of Identity Development in Education” by Joseph Levitan and Davin Carr-Chellman is an essay discussing two theories of how to best develop a sense of self and an awareness of others. This essay reviews American Pragmatists’ philosophies with the development of identity, specifically in an educational setting. The second theory is the Pragmatic Identity Theory which provides a better explanation to execute both theories into common practice. (Davin Carr-Chellman and Joseph Levitan 140) American Pragmatist Theory is specifically directed at the children and their learning and awareness abilities while Pragmatic Identity Theory goes over how the teachers, students, and parents all play vital roles in a positive learning environment. (Davin Carr-Chellman and Joseph Levitan 141) 

The Pragmatists philosophies explain that developing a sense of self is an ongoing process of awareness, knowledge, and social interactions. “American Pragmatists’ fundamental insight is the experiential nature of awareness and cognition—that knowledge and identity are developed through interaction, and are contingent, relational, and in constant process.” (Davin Carr-Chellman and Joseph Levitan 144) This philosophy points out that the idea of forming your own identity this way is both a social and personal construct. Identity that encompasses a person as one thing can pigeonhole a person but, in reality, is the combination of every facet of a person and their actions and opinions. “Identity, then, is an umbrella term that describes the conglomeration of self-concepts that are constructed, negotiated, and imposed.” (Davin Carr-Chellman and Joseph Levitan 150)  

The results of this theory relate to the concept of teaching emotional literacy by going into depth with the ideas of positive learning environments and guiding students to form their own identity. We cannot expect children to learn and mature if they do not feel safe and heard. Having a strong sense of self as a child leads to confident adults that are properly equipped for life. 

Gee explains what literacy is and provides broad explanations as to where different discourses can be attained. This provides background information that can further the definition of what emotional literacy is and what it can be. “Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School” found the best program to incorporate within schools that provides training for students, teachers, and parents. This study shows why emotional literacy should be included in schools. “Learning, Selfhood, and Pragmatic Identity Theory: Towards a Practical and Comprehensive Framework of Identity Development in Education” is an essay that analyzes Pragmatists’ theories about identity in a classroom setting and how that impacts development. This essay shows how best to teach children to think for themselves and while they learn their own emotions and feeling, they will also be forming a sense of self.  

Emotional literacy encompasses so many things and when children are taught how to express themselves both at home and in a school setting, they are able to better form a sense of self. Figuring out who you are, especially as a child, is no easy task, but the process becomes much easier when the child can process their emotions well. Identity comes from your opinions and how you feel. When a person cannot translate their emotions into thoughts, it hinders development. That is why it is important to teach emotional literacy in schools because finding your own identity through emotional literacy during adolescence is imperative to development.  


Works Cited 

James Paul Gee. “What is Literacy?” The Journal of Education at Boston University, Vol. 171,  no. 1, 1989, pp. 1-8.  

Jones, Stephanie M., et al. “Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary  School.” The Future of Children, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 49–72. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.  

Levitan, Joseph, and Davin Carr-Chellman. “learning, Selfhood, and Pragmatic Identity Theory:  Towards a Practical and Comprehensive Framework of Identity Development in  Education.” The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue De La Pensée Éducative,  vol. 51, no. 2, 2018, pp. 140–161. JSTOR, Accessed 25  Feb. 2021. 


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Anonymous English 102 Writer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book