UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the tag “Community Literacy”

Showing Up Over and Over Again: Some Updates on Our Community Literacy Projects

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director

If you’ve been keeping up with our blog for some time, then you may have already heard a little bit about our community partnerships with Family Scholar House and the LayneWestern branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. We are now in our third year of exploring ways to fulfill our commitment to community literacy in the broader Louisville area, and these projects have recently unfolded in really interesting ways.

Last semester, one of our most exciting endeavors was partnering with students in Dr. Andrea Olinger’s undergraduate capstone course on “Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures.” Upper level English majors in this course tutored for four weeks at our community partner sites, and their coursework allowed them to reflect on their experiences and discuss both foundational theories and pragmatic strategies related to community literacy projects. In turn, this partnership allowed us to significantly expand our presence at both partner sites. With the help of these students and five other more long term volunteers, we had a total of over 70 tutoring sessions at Family Scholar House and the Western branch in the fall.

Now that we have settled into the new year and new semester, we have some exciting updates to share about our community literacy projects and some things we’re looking forward to this spring.

1. Our undergraduate internship program.

This semester, we have expanded our relationship with the undergraduate English major program to create an internship opportunity in conjunction with our community partner sites. We are currently working with four interns who have regular, weekly tutoring hours at one of the two community locations, and–particularly at the Western branch–are helping us generate programming and outreach ideas. One benefit of this program is that these upper level students are able to explore their research interests in more concrete ways. For example, two of our interns have previously researched translingual and multilingual literacy tutoring, and another is interested in beginning a reading/debate group for elementary and middle school students at the Western branch. We are so excited about the range of interests these tutors bring to this experience, and we can’t wait to see how their involvement shapes the future of our community partnerships.

2. Working with adult and young writers at the Western branch.

When we first began our relationship with the Western branch, we focused primarily on K-12 literacy tutoring. During the summer of 2017, for example, we offered a series of comic writing workshops for young writers. However, at the end of last fall, Natalie Woods (the Western branch manager) and I decided to expand our literacy tutoring to include adult writers as well. Since we knew that the involvement of existing tutors and the addition of our new interns would allow us to offer even more weekly hours, we felt that the time was right to expand our tutoring for all ages. So far this semester, our tutors have already worked with young writers on school assignments, creative writing projects, and applications to local middle school magnet programs. We are looking forward to seeing how our tutors take advantage of this opportunity to work with a broader range of writers and how this change grows our involvement with the local community.

3. Continuing to learn from our community partners about how we can contribute to their goals.

From the beginning of this project, we have been committed to prioritizing the needs and goals of our community partner sites above all else. Drawing on the tenets of participatory action research, we have begun by “showing up” and listening to our partners, then offering our knowledge and institutional resources for the purposes that they deem fit. While the same can be said for community literacy work in general, this approach in particular requires a great deal of flexibility and creative thinking. It isn’t enough to show up once and think we have everything figured out. We must continually listen and look for new ways to show up for the communities we are working with. Through this process, we have already learned so much about what we can bring to writers in the community and how we can create sustainable relationships with these organizations and the populations they serve. As we develop new ways to adapt to the needs of the broader community, we are so excited about the opportunities, challenges, and successes that await us as we continue to look for ways to fulfill our commitment to showing up over and over again.

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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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