Writing Partnerships: Service-Learning in Composition

deansThomas Deans is one of only a few SL/Composition gurus that’s publishing, and Writing Partnerships is a great resource for instructors like me at two-year institutions like Lake Superior College. The book is both theoretical and practical, and Deans uses three case studies that exemplify the paradigm that he develops.

Deans begins by setting the whole concept of service-learning in the contexts of John Dewey and Paulo Freire. He then fleshes this out into his service learning paradigm:

  • writing for the community
  • writing about the community
  • writing with the community

He develops each of the above with a case study.

Writing for the community is shown through the example of an upper level WAC sport management class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Students there work with community non-profits, developing actual written usable projects, like a First Aide manual for adolescent swimming instrucors at a local YMCA. This practice is probably best suited for four year institutions where experienced writers can more confidently apply their skills to real world situations.

Writing about the community is shown through the example of first year composition students at Bentley College near Boston. Here, students are partnered with community groups in non-writing service situations like tutoring in an urban elementary school after school program. Students are asked to use their service experiences later in the analysis of a social issue, writing an essay that would also include more traditional research. This comes closest to the type of SL I’ve attempted in my composition classes (minus the traditional research element).

Writing with the community is really what I aspire to, though it’s a daunting undertaking. Deans’ case study is Linda Flower’s Community Literacy Center (CLC) partnership with the English Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Founded in 1991, the CLC is located in urban North Pittsburgh. There, undergraduate and graduate student mentors work with urban youth specifically to affect grassroots change. This social activism often takes the form of writing in the CLC’s own publications, and also in other community forums (like newspapers). In Deans’ case study, he shows how CLC students and mentors worked together to address a city curfew issue.

A partnership like the CMU/CLC partnership is much larger than any one instructor/one class situation. Clearly it would require institutional commitment and money. However, I noticed a new Minnesota Campus Compact grant that might fund the beginnings of such a partnership between LSC and local Duluth institutions like Life House, CHUM, Daminao Center, or the Union Gospel Mission. A new 2000 level writing course would probably need to be developed to facilitate the project. It’s something I’m exploring, anyway.

Deans ends the book with several appendices with practical documents from the various case studies, and annotated lists of service learning projects being done at various institutions nation-wide.

Deans also has a student text, Writing and Community Action: A Service-Learning Rhetoric with Readings, that I’ve asked Pearson for a copy of. It might be something I can use with a Comp II class next year.

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1 Response to Writing Partnerships: Service-Learning in Composition

  1. Jocelyn says:

    Punky–I just responded to your comment on my latest post, too, in case you’re interested in follow-up (it’s a cheap way to get you back to my blog and up my # of hits for the week, right?).

    In regards to this here, it sounds like there’s room for some more Comp/SL books out there. Next sabbatical?

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