(Literally) Meeting Writers where they are at Community Literacy Sites
Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of The Writing Center
My favorite tutoring session this year was a group session, where the two writers were working on drastically different projects. One writer was working on a paper in which she had to identify an area in her life where she possessed rare expertise, and our brainstorming led her to a past job as a phlebotomist and her unique knowledge on how to draw blood.
This brainstorming and outlining was often interrupted by the other writer, whose projects included buttoning, unbuttoning, buttoning, unbuttoning, and buttoning both her and my jackets, discussing why snowmen don’t need jackets and monkeys prefer bananas, and finding the perfect video on Youtube of children baking imaginary cakes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this “other” writer was about 3.
When you imagine a “typical” writing center session (does such a thing exist?) you probably envision a quiet setting in which two people are examining a draft, exchanging ideas, and conversing, with plenty of pauses to think, consider, and reflect. Sessions in community literacy sites tend to take on a slightly different hue. Community means many, ever-shifting, laughter.
At the Gladys and Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus, writing sessions happen in an open space designed to look like a Starbucks, with computers and chic furniture. Large windows connect this room to a playplace so moms, many of whom live on-site, can keep an eye on their young ones. Every writer I have worked with at Family Scholar House is a mother, and every one is intensely and impressively dedicated to the pursuit of education.
At the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, tutors sit at a table at the center of the main floor – strategically within view of the entrance as well as the computer banks nearby. While cushioned by stacks of books, the sound of Fortnite is a constant buzz. Here, the typical writer may be a middle-schooler, hanging out with friends at the library after school but before heading home. Sometimes tutors cajole writers to take out their homework with the wave of a coveted piece of gum.
This is all to say that writing sessions at community literacy sites are all the things you might not expect: noisy, chaotic, dynamic. And this is precisely what makes tutoring there so fun!
A key skill in writing tutoring is flexibility, going with the flow, recognizing when a strategy isn’t working and changing it up, moving from poetry analysis to a biology lab report to an engineering dissertation in the span of a few hours. Community literacy stretches this skill to the max, expanding what we think of as a “session,” “writer,” and even “writing.”
I think it’s fair to say that the denouement of most writing tutoring sessions isn’t having a 3-year-old fall slowly into a heavy sleep on your lap, while talk with your writer of ethos and evidence-based claims is punctuated by the chatter of a tour group of local business people. But that’s precisely what made this my favorite session of the year, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer!