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Research Update #1

Subject, Purpose, Audience activity--ELTC

Since the semester for the last half of my internship with the CLC is half completed, I would like to provide a report of the projects I have started at the Education and Life Training Center, along with notes regarding the progress of each project:

January 2011: Began compiling a Writing Strategies Binder for future interns at the CLC office. The binder includes divisions for handouts about strategies for helping students in pre-, during, and editing stages. Most handouts come from educator websites.

Started a field “playbook.” Inspired by Dr. Louann Reid’s courses at CSU, I decided to incoporate all my lesson ideas and samples from my ESL writing workshops at ELTC in a Mead notebook. Dr. Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala provided me with a set of questions I respond to in my notebook after each class session. My goal is for future interns to use the field playbook to help them with their instruction.

February 2011: With the help of ESL librarian Jimena Pena (of the Fort Collins Main Library), I was able to visit the ESL section and discover the Pearson Longman Ready to Write composition series by Karen Blanchard and Christine Root for use in my ESL writing workshop. These texts include lesson plans and handouts for teaching students about the stages of writing craft, including brainstorming and editing. I ordered desk copies of the 3rd edition, 1-3, to be kept for future interns at the CLC.

March 2011: With the help of veteran and mentor ELTC instructor Chris Walker, I collected 10+autobiographies written by students in the English GED and ESL Writing Workshop to be read to prospective donors at the organization’s monthly meeting. Community members would like to know more about the students who are served at ELTC. In addition, autobiographies will accompany student pieces in the ELTC publication.

With the help of Tobi and Vince, set date for ELTC writing collection–April 18, 2011. Looking at compiling writings for first publication through Publisher. Publication will include student essays, poetry, stories, collages, and autobiographies. Each student will receive copies of the publication.

For April and May: Collect and edit all student writings. Begin to compile student work into publication.

Complete field playbook.

Write introductions for Strategies Binder and include a works cited.

Compile and publish SIOP lesson plans (12) for future interns using Ready to Write Series.

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Now on my second semester as a facilitator of writing for ESL and GED students at ELTC, I ask myself, “What learning opportunities involving writing have I allowed students to make, and how have those opportunities given birth to the creation of student stories?”

As Barany states, “writing is, indeed a foreign language” (“Writing is a Foreign Language, and a Senior Writing Workshop is a Tower of Babel Whose Many Languages Need to Be Translated”, 115). In both my classes, I have students from all over the globe, all different age ranges, and of different genders. Along with these differences come unique experiences that students have yet to find the words to translate into writing–even in their native tongues. Barany suggests that students “ought to be fluent in both the original and target languages if they are to understand and render nuances of the original” (117). Many students in the GED class have yet to master the mechanics and usage of their native language–English–needed to translate their experiences, along with the jargon they may have picked up in jail, on the street, or at work. To create outsider understanding, these students need to make audience members insiders by capturing the true essence of unique experiences through the truest translation.

Barany suggests that to perform the truest translation, the facilitator should ask questions and allow students to choose subjects they enjoy (116). Zwerling (“Right on the Border: Mexican-American Students Write Themselves Into The(ir) World”, 53) suggests that not only should students like their topics, but they should also have goals (50), feel ownership for their work, be held accountable, and be able to apply their work in the real world (53). Thus, my students should be able to create writings about subjects that tell their stories, but should also be able to participate in opportunities that allow them to apply what they have learned.

Most student goals include learning how to write Standard American English to pass that portion of the GED or to learn to read and write English at work. Both Barany’s  and Zwerling’s philosophies not only allow me to facilitate writing activities for the goals students have, but also to look beyond passing the GED and speaking English at a job. For instance, students can take their learning further by applying their writing to community projects they care about. But first, these students need time to reflect and translate their experiences within their minds and onto paper to discover what their passions and stories may be.

Many of my students are still in the process of translating their life experiences to themselves. Some of them are in a mental state of survival mode–getting to class on time and paying the bills; they rarely have time to sit and process–to journal. By coming to workshops, these students have  a safe space where they can journal and process. They can discover and translate their passions, one class at a time. Many of my students have never thought of publishing. However, at every class, I remind them that they are authors of their life stories. I show them sample publications, such as student works in BoulderReads! and CLC publications, such as the SpeakOut! Journal. Most recently, we were asked by ELTC for students to write their autobiographies on notecards, to be read to donors at the end of the monthly meeting. Students were excited to share their life stories and have them read aloud by members of the nonprofit organization, and the organization is showing that it is interested in the lives of its students. Not only has this project begun to create a bond between student and community, but it has also provided students with their first opportunity for publishing and applying their writing. Because this project has sparked their interests, students have been able to translate, and the community is beginning to listen.

 One useful pre-writing assessment that I could use that I found through the link www.proliteracy.org was a questionnaire through the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This metacognitive questionnaire asks students questions about their knowledge of their first and second languages and their abilities to read, write, and speak in these languages, as well as their levels of education. These questions had an uncanny feel to them because I was reminded of a pre-writing assessment I created to conference with students at ELTC (Click-on Pre-writing assessment). In my assessments, I asked students the following questions:

  • What is your purpose or goal for writing?
  • What do you want to learn in writing workshop?
  • What topics and themes are you interested in writing about?
  • What genres are you interested in writing?
  • Do you consider yourself a writer in your first language?
  • What times in your life have you written?
  • For whom have you written? For what type of audience were you writing? What have been your biggest challenges writing in your first language? Biggest challenges writing in English?

I also provided examples, along with these questions (i.e. for “genres,” I included poetry, short stories, letters, essays, resumes, etc.). In addition, if students had difficulty writing their answers, I verbally interviewed them during our one-on-one conferences.

I am also keeping writing portfolios for each student to assess writing. In Writing Between Languages (2009), Danling Fu suggests that portfolios with student writing samples “provide a holistic and accurate way to assess ELLs’ writing development [. . .] Through reading multiple writing samples in students’ portfolios we can begin to understand the recursive nature of their writing development” (76). By examining their portfolio samples, I can monitor how much my students have grown in their English grammar usage and style.

This past November, I attended the Colorado Language Arts Society (CLAS) Convention in Denver. There, I went to a workshop hosted by Denver ELL Writing Workshop instructor, Shannon Styers. Ms. Styers presented me with another tool for assessment, “The Editing Checklist.” This form is paperclipped to the top of student writing submitted to Ms. Styers for editing. The form includes the title of the piece, conventions a student needs to work on (such as grammar, capitalization, etc.), misspelled words to add to the student’s personal spelling list, and Ms. Styers’s comments. After the first draft, Ms. Styers hands back the piece with the checklist and students revise and initial what they had edited. I would like to adopt Ms. Styers’s approach because it is like having a personal conversation with a student about his or her writing and the comments are focused and immediate.

In Teaching for Joy and Justice (2009), Linda Christensen also presents a very personal and direct way for writing assessment, the tailored “Student Pattern of Errors” letter. In this letter, Christensen provides individual students with a few specific writing techniques they need to work on. These letters include a question about an element of spelling or grammar, such as, “Did you check your capitals?” She then responds to her question by praising what the student did, pointing out what the student needs to work on, and writing a micro-lesson on that element, such as: “Capitalize names of streets–Kerby Avenue, Killingsworth Street” (269).

Finally, to assess my ELL writers at ELTC, I will periodically check their journals and photocopy random entries. I will examine these entries to determine what mistakes are frequently being made within the group, and then create mini-lessons to improve their learning.

I am a firm believer that good assessment leads to good learners. Assessment can be formal (like in the ideas I presented above), but it can also be informal, through peer and classroom interactions and personal conversations with students.

Since many of the students at the ELTC are taking advantage of utilizing the Mead notebooks from the CLC, I thought I would conduct some secondary research to see how students can best use their notebooks for journaling. I found an article from the Journal of Adult Education by Kimberly Miller Linnell about “Using Dialogue Journals to Focus on Form” with ESL students. In her article, Linnell suggests that students can improve their second language acquisition by leaving space in their journals for teacher response. The teacher’s response provides “comprehensible input,” one of the key tenants of language learning and includes materials slightly above the student’s level of proficiency. The dialogue also encourages authentic conversation over markings of red ink. In addition, Linnell suggests ways that the dialogue journal can be used to incorporate new vocabulary words and address grammar forms, which are essential to ELL’s learning. The instructor can also teach the student how to use the back of the journal to catalog errors.

How do I foster “cultural citzenship” in a classroom of students from all over the globe? After reading Maria Franquiz and Carol Brochin-Ceballos’s article, “Cultural Citizenship and Latino English Language” (California English), I discovered the premises of providing cultural citizenship in my ESL writing workshop. Those premises include providing access to culturally relevant texts, proposing multiple opportunities for students to use their cultural assets (especially in journal writing), fostering cultural preservation, and engaging students in activities with transformative potential. I plan to provide my workshop students with texts other than those written by “dead white guys.” For instance, when we study vignettes and stories, the class will be reading The House on Mango Street, and when we study poetry, we will be reading, Luna, Luna.  To show students the transformative nature of their writing, I hope to help promote their stories through publication and Reader’s Theater.

Finally, I read about assisting “Long-Term English Learners Writing Their Stories” by C. Lynn Jacobs (English Journal). Long-term English learners have usually been attending school in the U.S. for at least seven years without reaching the status of fluency; they may speak English, but their scholastic skills are below grade level. Since these students are often caught between their home culture and the dominant culture where they attend school and work, these students need a format where they can authentically tell their stories. Jacobs shows how she published her students’ writings in the collection, Love Ties My Shoes, to show students how their words can become powerful in the community and serve a purpose. In addition, she provides writing opportunities through the use of the “I Am” poem prompt and “cubing” (each of six sides of a drawn cube represents an aspect of a list of topics a student can write about, including description, association, compare/contrast, analyze, application, and argument).

All three of these articles have provided me with effective and tested strategies and activities to use in my ESL writing workshop.

 

 

 

“[E]very story needs some to listen.”

“[B]eing acknowledged is part of the healing process.”

In Emily Nye’s “The More I Tell My Story: Writing as Healing in an HIV/AIDS Community,” she addresses the idea of  how journal writing can help persons connect with their communities to deal with tough times.  Her experience working with AIDS groups in Denver produced narratives by individuals who sought not be victims, but rather, constructors of their own worlds through the power of their stories.

Nye suggests that personal narratives serve several functions. First, narratives anthologize the human experience by collecting these experiences in emerging themes of love, rejection, and pain. In addition, writing a narrative allows a person to “remake a world without a crippling pain or scar [. . .] write ourselves into a story where we once were absent” (392). The act of writing itself allows the writer to reach his or her “core of self” to keep from going mad and re-shape the self. Writing also puts the mind at peace as memory is translated into language  through organization of thought, slowing down thought, clearing the mind of trauma, and creating opportunities for problem-solving (394-395) and reconstruction of the future. Writers also learn to teach others through their narratives, and by doing so, writers become empowered experts. For instance, whether or not their audience members are living with AIDS, writers who share their work allow others to confront the epidemic or share new research and medication to those who have AIDS. By doing so, writers become “owners” of information (404). Finally, “an audience’s acknowledgment lessens the individual’s feeling of aloneness” (406). Exploring narratives allows people to learn about themselves and teach others. Indeed, there are therapeutic qualities to writing.

At ELTC, I see the power of Nye’s narratives directly. Although the ELL population in my writing workshop differs from Nye’s population of survivors of AIDS and HIV, I see similarities in the function of narratives in each group. Both groups still have minority voices in the community, and thus, are often reluctant to speak. One evening, a student in my writing workshop made a comment that made me realize my ignorance. We were writing about the immigrant experience. I told the students that I could not imagine what it must be like to live or travel to another country that did not speak their native language. “I cannot imagine what it will be like if I go to South America with the Peace Corps,” I said. “I will struggle with learning a new language, just like you guys.” Then, the student said to me seriously. “You speak English. You will have no problem getting around in another country.”

The students I work with are ELLs who are experts at being excluded. Because I speak English, I will never be an expert in their experiences. However, their stories will teach me, and their peers. Nye’s ideas of sharing narratives has connected our workshop community. One night, one student shared a little bit about his life in his native country through a writing about the meaning of his name and a folktale from his country. His classmates roared with applause after his reading.  As Nye mentions, the sharing of these narratives provides a healing and identification process similar to the function of myths and rituals (392).

Nye’s article connected well with the other article I chose to read, “Right on the Border: Mexican-American Students Write Themselves Into The(ir) World,” by Philip Zwerling (Community Literacy Journal, Spring 2010). In this article, Zwerling, an Anglo professor, discusses his experience working with Mexican-American “experts” of the college underprepared. Like the members of Nye’s groups, Zwerling shows how his students re-constructed themselves and their society through the power of writing. He provided me with some valuable tools for conducting workshop. First, he asked students to name their goals for the course (I followed his advice by creating individual writing assessments for my ELLs). He next had students read Collins’s Community Writing text to emphasize students’ agency. He asked them to reflect on their identities in relation to the multiple communities they identified with and decide which issues impact those communities. There was also a component of research and interviews that allowed students to pick solutions (50). They rehearsed their pieces to peers before submitting them for publication to local newspapers. This process allowed them to become experts and use writing not as “an academic exercise but a tool for change” (51). Finally, their work culminated into a service learning project with the Bensen State Park. Students were able to use their writing skills to generate brochures, social networking sites, postcards, and even children’s books for the Park.

Nye’s and Collins’s articles are very impacting for my work at ELTC. I feel the importance of allowing students to write and publish their narratives to reconstruct their societies. I also see the power of allowing students to use their writing skills for applicable purposes, such as connecting with a local organization to create print or electronic based media to support and promote that organization. I am going to talk to the students and ELTC about how we can put student writings to practical use.

How Do I Represent Language?

The articles we read for our internship this week were very near and dear to the work I am doing with English language learners at ELTC. Pat Rigg’s article, “Petra: Learning to Read at 45,” is a “case study of a middle-aged Mexican migrant women trying to learn to write [. . .] it is a personal account of the tutor’s discover of some of the social and psychological factors that kept Petra illiterate” (Journal of Education, v. 167, p.129). In this article, Rigg and her tutor, Clara, attempt to make Petra “literate” through a psycholinguistic approach–“so language would neither be fragmented or without discourse”–but they discover that Petra’s idea of being “literate” is completely different than their idea.

Rigg and Clara bring Petra fotonovelas, Mexican magazines, recipes, and books of riddles and prayers. They were hoping that Petra would learn the idea of writing for an audience and concept of genres.  However, Petra did not move beyond reading and writing her own name because her concept of reading and writing did not include understanding whole words, but rather, “drawing clear letters” (p.135). In addition, social pressures, created by the economic and political context Petra lived in, restrained her development. For instance, Petra’s son views his mother in a role that excludes her from getting a higher education and sustains her current roles of staying home and babysitting and making tortilla’s; therefore, he is more likely to forget to bring his mother to her tutoring sessions.

Two quotes stand out from this reading. First, Petra’s comment about a dark-skinned woman in a photograph (‘She is not going to be the same as before, if she learns to read’), and second, Petra’s comment to Rigg (‘Are you doing this to help people who can’t read and write, or are you doing this for yourself?’). These quotes are significant because, along with Anzaldua’s discussion about “Chicanos [straddling] borderlands of language” in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” they ask the reader to consider those practices of reading and writing that we often take for granted. Rigg and Anzaldua ask us to push those authentic dialogues regarding language, education, and stereotypes of women and other cultures, that we subconsciously avoid.

After reading these articles, I wonder, are there dialogues that I am subconsciously avoiding with ESL students and even the GED students at ELTC? How am I representing language with pre-made prompts, my educational background, and my concepts of literacy?

When I first started my writing workshop, I assisted an older woman who recently immigrated from Armenia. I noticed that rather than choosing one prompt to write about for a whole paragraph, she would recopy several prompts and then respond to each prompt with one sentence. Perhaps she did not understand my directions, or maybe, she was participating in literacy her way. Either way, I was making assumptions (rather consciously or unconsciously) about how she would learn English. I later discovered that this woman used to be a chemist in her home country, and she was looking for the same position in the United States. I am embarrassed to say that because I knew she lived with her son and relied on him for transportation, I thought she was living in America to help him take care of his family–I fell into the trap of stereotyping.

I recall two other instances. When I first met a male student from Mexico in the ESL class, I told him I spoke some Spanish. His answer reminded me of Anzaldua’s essay: “What type of Spanish–Spain Spanish, Tex-Mex, Mexican?” In the GED class recently, the instructor asked a female student and mother of two to read some vocabulary words and sentences. I almost writhed in pain, along with the student, as she struggled to guess at words and ignore certain letters to complete a sentence in front of me and two of her peers. Often a peer would jump in and finish a word for her. When the student appeared to be confused, the instructor asked her to silently read the sentence before reading it aloud. The example of this student reminded me of Petra’s story. I realized how much I take the ability to read and write for granted in others, how maybe my definition of literacy was different than this student’s, and how despite the fact this student could not read and pronounce a word “correctly,”  like Petra, still had the ability to think.

The Literacy Dilemma

What is your definition of "literacy"?

These past two weeks, the Community Literacy Center (CLC) at CSU asked us to read Gee’s Chapter 2: Literacy and the Literacy Myth: From Plato to Freire. Gee has riddled my mind with questions about my current definitions of “literacy” and how “literacy” functions in society, specifically in Western culture. I will continue to wrap my brain around these ideas as I explore what literacy really means in the context I am using it at the Education and Life Training Center.

Gee begins by questioning the traditional meaning of “literacy” (a.k.a. “the ability to read and write”) by examining the historical context of literacy from Plato’s charges that face-to-face dialogue should be favored over writing (“writing cannot defend itself”) and the rhetoric of Homer and politicians, to the 18th Century Swedes instituting literacy to promote Christianity, character development, and citizenship training. Ultimately, Gee notices a trend in history regarding literacy that creates a paradox: “literacy as liberator and literacy as weapon.”

Gee takes literacy’s relation to reading and writing to a new level by suggesting that literacy is not housed in a single person, but it is mansioned in a political society, which uses literacy as a tool for wielding power.In reference to contemporary society, he presents some unconventional inferences, such as “schools have historically failed with non-elite populations and have thereby replicated social hierarchy,” and distinguishes “literacy” from “language” when he states: “Now and throughout history, language has seemed to us a large part of what makes us human and what distinguishes us from other creatures on earth. Literacy, on the other hand, has played a different role [. . .] Across history and across various cultures, literacy has seemed to many people to be what distinguishes one kind of person from another kind of person.” Gee suggests that literacy has become a myth and upholds claims to better citizens and economic development, lower birth rate and crime, modern and complex governments, and social equity, to name a few claims to power.

What does Gee’s definition of form and function of literacy mean for my work with ESL and GED students at ELTC and future students I teach? How is “literacy” functioning in my current teaching philosophy? Am I using literacy as a tool of liberation or a weapon?

Last year I read an article about the buzz concept in teaching, 21st Century Literacy, published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). The article discussed the importance of combining technology (which I am doing now by blogging), forms of real-world application, and multicultural perspectives to promote 21st Century Literacy in the classroom. While I espoused those ideals at the time of reading the article, Gee makes me now question the sociopolitical agenda (whether implicit or explicit) of such an article about literacy, as well as my own agenda in promoting “literacy” as an intern to the CLC at ELTC.

My goals at ELTC include, through the use of creative writing mini workshops, getting GED students to pass the essay portions of their tests and ESL students to become fluent English speakers and writers to interview for jobs, gain citizenship, and pursue personal goals. Longer goals include creating website podcasts, booklets, and readers theater. After reading Gee, I wonder if I am subconsciously espousing and implementing a Western political agenda to promote “behaviors and attitudes appropriate to good citizenship and moral behavior” in the classroom? While I have been asking students to respond to picture, written, and verbal prompts to set-up a safe climate for writing, what have I really been doing? Should I have started the writing workshops without the assumption that I know why learners are taking these GED and ESL classes, and asked learners to begin their writing by writing a letter to me about their thoughts (if any) about literacy? Or their thoughts about why they are enrolled in these classes? I guess I am answering a question with more questions. Thanks, Gee (and the CLC) for making me think. . .

At the end of his chapter, Gee concludes with “The Aspirin Bottle Problem,” which considers how proponents of “functional literacy” and “adult literacy” (two themes commonly associated with the learners at ELTC) question the relevance of “fancy” sociocultural theories in light of those folks who are unemployed and cannot read the warning label on a Tylenol bottle. I think what Gee is saying here is that there are layers of literacy definitions to consider: the ability to actually read the words written on the bottle, the ability to interpret the strange wording used, and the ability to recognize the sociocultural and political implications of the warning label. These layers, along with the question: ‘to what sort of social group do I intend to apprentice the learner?’ are all things I need to further explore inside and outside of this blog and at ELTC.

 

 

Not This Grant!

I received my introduction to grant writing this month, when I submitted a Praxis application to the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLiCE) Office on the CSU campus. I was trying to procure funds for the CLC work that is being done at the Education and Life Training Center on Linden Street.

At first, I had some idea of what I was doing, but I needed a little advice and encouragement. Oh, and I’m a kinesthetic learner, so a little “learning by doing” helped, too. Thank you to Fabiola Zavala-Ehlers, Tobi Jacobi, Maite Correa, and James Klopp for all your help and patience with my first grant application. I am happy to write this blog after experiencing this process hands-on, and I am interested to see how the CLC readings correspond with my process.

My first draft looked like an umbrella with a bunch of holes in it. Rain was dripping through, so I needed some glue. That’s when Tobi, Fabiola, and Maite provided the adhesive. Tobi and Fabiola provided me with drafts of prior grant applications in the Partnerships for Literacy Success initiative. In addition, Brett from SLiCE sent me a copy of an application that had been accepted in the past. Examples are a good thing.

After examining my skeleton out-line, I realized I was missing some key ingredients. First, as suggested in our on-line readings, I needed a persuasive “narrative”–this was a new word for me in reference to grant writing. I wondered, What does a “narrative” include? I met with Fabiola to discuss these elements. She suggested I do some research for statistics that showed the need for our ESL work in the community. She and Tobi also informed me to partner with another organization, namely the TESL/TEFL GTAs on campus, with the same vested interests. Once partnered, I could write the historical accomplishments of both the CLC’s work at C.O.R.E. and the GTAs’ work on campus (Advocacy Week, Family Literacy Night) into the narrative and show the sustainability of these two forces, working together.

I was able to email James Klopp, member of the TESL/TEFL GTAs to learn more about his organization, including their history, accomplishments, and needs. All his information was useful to add to the narrative to show how the grant would be used to provide direct service to ELTC students, promote diversity in the community through various media forms, and create a continual training program for new CLC interns and GTAs at ELTC. In addition to the narrative, I learned about other contents of grant writing, including project goals, learning goals, volunteer numbers and roles, proposed structure of the project, and itemized listing of projected expenses.

After reviewing the CLC’s readings for the week, I noticed that most grant proposals include the above mentioned elements in one way or another, depending upon who you are asking for funding. For instance, The Writing Center in North Carolina states the major components to be a title page, abstract, introduction, literature review, project narrative, personnel, and budget and budget justification (www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/grant_proposals.html, p. 5).

Some new terms I found in the readings for grant writing include “white paper” (general proposal), “inquiry letter” (similar to a query letter), and “budget narrative” (budget justification). Besides learning new terminology, I discovered the diction of grant writing. The website www.npguides.org/guide/index.html suggests using “concise, persuasive writing,” which includes action verbs, such as “launched,” “delivered,” “committed,” and “anticipate,” as well as strong adverbs, such as “critically,” and “constructively.”

One of the most important items I learned about applying for a grant includes how much I should ask for when budgeting. Tobi and Fabiola suggested that when a monetary source’s funding is less that year, don’t ask for the full amount available, but shoot high enough, so that you’ll get a good chunk of the amount you requested, if you don’t get the full amount. The University of North Carolina also suggests that “[a]lthough some successful grant applicants may fear that funding agencies will reject future proposals because they’ve already received ‘enough’ funding, the truth is that money follows money. Individuals or projects awarded grants in the past are more competitive and thus more likely to receive funding in the future” (p.2). Hmm. . .money follows money. I guess the key is to obtain funds and keep the funding rolling. . .

The biggest surprise I experienced while reading the criteria for the Praxis, is that there are meeting requirements if I were to receive the funds. Meetings include retreat trainings, learning and reflection circles, and the Praxis Showcase in the Spring. Those writing grants should be prepared to attend all trainings, if funds are dispensed.

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I recently discovered that my Praxis application did not get accepted by SLiCE. However, I did receive feedback via email from the SLiCE office on the grant I submitted and the chance to meet with the office to further discuss my application. I feel that a discussion would be beneficial toward my future applications for funding, especially with this particular organization. Even though my application did not get accepted, I received valuable practice in grant writing, as well as a nice introduction to all the elements of this skill. Better luck next time. . . .

Becoming a Sponsor of Literacy

LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow

My mother was my first literacy sponsor. About the time I could barely hoist myself onto a chair, she read to me. Golden Books, tales of Arthur the Elephant, and shelves sagging with the weight of Dr. Seuss’s wacky words became her sponsorship tools and materials. Only I didn’t know that at the time. Later, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting sponsored my afternoon dates with the characters of Sesame Street and LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow. When I became old enough to read, I fascinated myself with the business of reading the Kenosha News and USA Today–two of my dad’s favorite morning coffee delights.

Soon change in forms of communication brought computers and the Internet into my high school and college, which shaped the way I transcribed my thoughts–first from paper to typewriter to multidimensional screen.  Post high school jobs sponsored additional trainings in becoming a developmental disability aide and learning Spanish–in both of these instances, I was able to use my sponsors’ resources for self-development.

In my short lifetime, I have witnessed and experienced Brandt’s concept of sponsored literacy in the form of many genres through both conservative (historical) and progressive forces. When considering how I will act as a literacy sponsor for the writers and learners at the Education and Life Training Center (ELTC), I cannot forget the importance of Brandt’s case studies in “Sponsors of Literacy,” as well personal experiences with my sponsors of literacy. These recollections will help me answer and understand two important questions Brandt raises–how are individuals pursuing literacy, and how is literacy pursuing them (183)–as I work with students at ELTC.

First–How are Individuals Pursuing Literacy? In her article, Brandt states: “Throughout their lives, affluent people from high-caste racial groups have multiple and redundant contacts with powerful literacy sponsors as a routine part of their economic and political privileges. Poor people and those from low-caste racial groups have less consistent, less politically secured access to literacy sponsors–especially to the ones that can grease their way to academic and economic success” (170). Many of the individuals who I am working with at ELTC do not have a high school diploma and/or are developing skills for speaking English as a second language.  Both situations put learners at an economic and/or racial disadvantage in the United States. Whether these students actively sought ELTC to individually pursue a new literacy, or were referred by a family member or place of work, students use the organization and its instructors as sponsors in their pursuits.

Next–How is Literacy Pursuing Individuals? As a sponsor of literacy at ELTC, I plan to fulfill its mission to “envision a community where all are empowered to succeed through education.” I will be assisting students who may not otherwise be able to afford the training of skills necessary to improve their employability or other educational goals. By devising creative writing mini-lessons on sentence and paragraph formation for students in the GED program, I will provide a stepping stone towards accomplishing a specific and practical goal; students may find that after writing creatively, literacy has pursued their personal interests by generating a spark for writing for fun. Likewise in the ESL program, students may discover that although they may be learning English because a sponsor/employer has placed them in the program, but once they feel comfortable writing letters, memos, lists, etc., in English that they are ready to branch into other writing genres, such as poetry or personal narratives.

The relationship between writers and the sponsor is dual–they will sponsor me as much as I will sponsor them. I will become more literate about the systems that our sponsors in their lives, such as bilingual newspapers, places of employment, government agencies, and messages from the media. Our backgrounds are each unique; the students will provide me with the opportunity to become literate in their stories and lives, so that we can transform these texts into tools for social justice and expression.

Hi everyone! My name is Erika Muller, and I am an English Education student at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

This blog was created to showcase the work that I am conducting at the Education and Life Training Center (ELTC) in Fort Collins (on Linden Street) through the Community Literacy Center (CLC) at CSU.

Future blogs will include my experiences working with ESL and GED students at ELTC. Through these experiences, I hope to increase my understanding of community literacy. Currently, I view community literacy as the joint effort between the personal and the social to construct an understanding of various texts for the purpose of deepening cultural and social goals (from Barton’s and Hamilton’s “Literacy Practices”). Texts may take the form of an essay or a poem, a discussion at a school board meeting, a Podcast, a blog, or a movie (to name a few examples).

One of our goals for the year is to produce a text–a booklet (i.e. a cookbook or a collection of writings in various genres) that reflects and compiles what the ELTC students have learned in the ESL program to deepen students’ understanding of community literacy. These writings may be gathered through creative writing mini-lessons. In addition, these lessons maybe presented as texts to the community in the forms of Podcasts or visual performances.

I realize that by exploring and sharing these different forms of literacy and texts produced by ELTC students among the students and the community, the group will meet challenges, such as encountering a variety of different perspectives and discourses; perspectives may be biased and some discourse levels may be less audible than others (see Higgins, Long, and Flower in “Community Literacy: A Rhetorical Model for Personal and Public Inquiry”).  Also, some students, depending upon their comfort levels with the English language and their abilities to use a particular form to deliver a text (i.e. orally, or via the Internet), may be reluctant to participate in literacy events. My hopes are that students will slowly engage in mini-lessons as a way of finding their ways into English texts. Eventually, these students will feel comfortable sharing their texts with their peers and the community and by doing so, give voice to crucial elements of their lives, both personally and culturally.

I encourage you to join my cohorts and me as we explore the realm of community literacy in action, in new and exciting ways!

“Writing flourishes in a safe community of learners, where teacher and students are writing and sharing their writings, editing each other’s work (students edit teacher’s writing also), and where they publish together. ELLs need a sense of community and structure that allows them to take risks on their way to learning in a new language and culture. “–colorincolorado.org