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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Fun Writing Comics at the Library in the Summer!

The University Writing Center is committed to writing and literacy projects in the Louisville community. This summer, continuing our work in the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, several staff and volunteers from the University Writing Center facilitated four writing workshops for K-12 students. In consultation with Natalie Woods, the manager of the Western Branch, we decided to connect the workshops to the Library’s summer reading theme of “Super-Readers,” and help young people write their own comics. The four workshops had a total of about fifty participants. It was a great experience for everyone, as you can see in the reflections of the University Writing Center staff on their experiences in working with these young – and enthusiastic writers.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director

For the first of four workshops, Layne, Chris, and I came in with a plan, though we didn’t know what or who to expect. At 2 p.m. on the rainy afternoon, about ten eager kids rushed down the stairs from the main part of the library to the spacious basement conference room. Our workshop plan, developed by our fearless leader Christopher Scheidler (aliases: Omega Ant and Fry Guy), broke down the comic writing process into three stations: character, plot, and design development. Most kids flocked to the

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Ultra-Guy, one writer’s superhero

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Catgirl, one writer’s superhero

character development station. The children’s own identities, their lives, and, of course, their beloved superheroes and villains provided inspiration. Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Iron Man, and The Joker all made appearances. When they finished with creating characters, many moved to plot development. Layne helped to guide their thinking through the beginning (set-up and introduction), middle (problem and climax), and end (resolution) of the plot. One surprise to us was that several of the plots intersected. The children created intertextuality—a character in one comic appeared in another writer’s as well. By the end of the two-hour workshop, we received one of our biggest compliments, that the workshop was “better than playing computer games upstairs.”

Chris Scheidler, Assistant Director

I thought that our comic book workshop was more fun than playing computer games, too. Of course, one of the reasons I initially suggested a

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Chris working with creative writers.

comic book writing workshop was because I thought it would be a way to quickly make writing fun and accessible. I also thought comic-book writing would be popular because of recent superhero movies and the library’s summer program on superheroes. Originally, I had suggested using one of the several computer programs or web-apps that are freely available, but Bronwyn raised a good point: namely, the importance of writers leaving the workshop with a tangible and material sign of their effort. Indeed, one of the biggest highlights of this summer’s workshop was during our third session where one of the writers laid-out, glued, and bound several pages into what would become a full-fledged comic book.

Of course, because comic books rely so heavily on visuals, the workshops had the added effect of pulling us a bit out of our creative element. I was particularly uncomfortable with having to draw and during the first session I found myself repeating “I’m not a good artist”. Yet any perceived lack of artistic aptitude didn’t dismay from us being creative and fully investing in the stories of our superheroes. Indeed, by the end of the second workshop writers were narrating stories as we all took turns sketching out scenes for our comic – we didn’t hold back from trying to put together interesting plot points, daring visuals, or exciting dialogue.

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director

At both of the workshops I attended this summer, I was most interested in and inspired by the writers’ desire to create superheroes that resembled themselves, as Cassie mentions above. At the time of the first workshop Wonder Woman had just premiered in

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Wonder Woman

theaters, and several of the girls wanted to draw a Wonder Woman character. But when they did, they added curly hair or glasses or a super power that they found more interesting and relevant to their own lives. They literally re-vised this character, remaking her in their own images. At the final workshop, I chose to do the same as I drew alongside the young writers. I created a superhero called Flash Mom inspired by my recent escapist foray into the Flash television show and my renewed interest in running—now with my one-year-old in tow in a jogging stroller. This required a lot more vulnerability than I expected as some of the writers asked me about what I was drawing and why, but it was also really fun to turn a male superhero into a mom superhero. I learned a lot from these young writers about the power of reimagining and revising our heroes as people more like us.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director

I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to help facilitate one of the Western Branch Comic Writing Workshops this summer. The other University Writing Center facilitators did a great job of creating activities and prompts to help participants with different aspects of the comic writing process. During the workshop that I helped facilitate, Cassie held down the fort at the creating your superhero station—generally the first stop in the workshop—where participants thought about and drew their superheroes. 015918d57fdb4c6c54b8e73865805859135908e76fChris collaborated with an enthusiastic table of participants to create an entire universe of food superheroes and supervillains. At a third table, I helped participants think through their superheroes’ narratives (including things like conflict, resolution, characters and setting), and I was so impressed with the story lines and details that they come up with. I hope the participants had as great a time as I did creating superheroes (mine was Picasso Girl) and stories, and seeing what everyone else created. We could not have had such a successful series of workshops without Western Branch’s enthusiasm and support, and certainly not without the excitement and creativity of all the workshop participants.

 

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Community Literacy and the Writing Center: Building Foundations

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director Amy N

For the past two years, the Writing Center has been working to build a commitment to community literacy into our activities. While writers from all over the university come to us for help with course assignments and beyond, writing centers constantly inhabit a liminal space where personal, academic, and professional writing collide. To honor this fact, we also wanted to expand our offerings to value writing that may happen off-campus, whether connected to higher education or not. While the role of writing centers and community engagement is still relatively new to writing center scholarship, we are excited about the potential benefits that what we might call writing center values, with their focus on listening and building trust over time, may have for the way university entities approach community partnerships.

Amy Picture1In Summer 2015, we began conversations with academic support staff at Family Scholar House to find out how our skills might be of use, and started offering workshops and tutoring hours for student writers on FSH campuses. This year, we expanded those hourly offerings and began allowing some of our trained consultants to volunteer as well. Three accomplishments we are particularly proud of this year:

  • Working in conjunction with Bronwyn Williams’ Spring 2017 Community Literacy course, we have been able to expand our spring hours to offer hours on multiple FSH campuses throughout the week, meeting a long-term FSH goAmy Picture2al of providing more in-house academic support for student writers.
  • Assistant Director Amy McCleese Nichols led families in a set of “Story-Making Workshops” during Fall 2016, which focused on composing for fun using family (or imagined) stories. This 3-day set of workshops had a total attendance of 81 adults, 52 children, and 48 hand-sewn booklets with individualized covers were made for participants to write stories in and take home.
  • This spring, we have also added another community partner: the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Also working with the Community Literacy course, we are providing writing help every Tuesday for K-12 students.

Throughout these conversations, we have kept several values in play: showing up, listening, and building partnerships gradually for continuity. In Bronwyn’s words, we begin by simply “showing up.” Showing up in our context has meant keeping a sense of flexibility when setting up programs and plans. While we have put time and effort into making sure our work is meeting a need articulated by our partners, we also save room for the moments when no one shows up – and then we show up the week afterward. By building our relationships and a sense of trust gradually, we have found ourselves more able to have conversations when offerings need to change for the mutual benefit of both organizations.

We are also creating logistical structures within the Writing Center to support long-term partnerships. As the first Assistant Director working with community literacy, I brought a unique skill set from my previous work as a nonprofit volunteer coordinator. As I have worked with our partners, I have written manuals, kept records of previous conversations, and passed that knowledge on to other staff in the Writing Center so that our partnerships are not bound entirely to a semester-by-semester schedule. While our offerings and volunteer numbers will ebb and flow over time as partnerships evolve, we hope that having a consistent contact who stays in touch from year-to-year within the university will provide a sense of continuity for us and our partners while also providing opportunities for graduate student assistant directors to gain experience in the logistics of managing partnerships.

We look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library. This fall, we are partnering with the English 508: Literacy Tutoring course, taught by Dr. Andrea Olinger. The course will cover teaching writing individually and in small groups in academic, professional, and community contexts, and students that have taken it will be qualified to complete internships and volunteer work through these partnerships.

Ultimately, we hope that what Tiffany Rousculp has termed a “rhetoric of respect” will define our community literacy efforts. By putting our partners’ voices first in the conversation, keeping elements of our partnerships consistent, and strategically partnering with service-learning courses, we look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library.

 

 

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