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Here we are at the end of another year at the CLC.  Let’s use this final post to reflect on some important moments at your site.  Pick one to describe in some detail. 

And, what is your exit strategy?  That is, how will you say goodbye, offer closure, etc.?

This past year has really offered me a rewarding experience and has opened my eyes. Coming into it, I was terrified of running a workshop. Now I am confident with it. There were many moments over the course of this year at the LCDC that will stay with me. The women talking about their insecurities with body image, the illusion of fairy tales, and the anger and loneliness they feel. Some of the best moments were when we got to lighten up and laugh a little. The women wrote silly poems about gnats in the sink, 12 things of LCDC, uses of sporks, and showers. I got an insight into incarceration that I would never have otherwise. Without this internship, I honestly probably would not even think about the incarcerated population. I got to spend 1.5 hours a week with them. The best part of every semester is always the reading of the journal, because it is a culmination of the work that these populations did. They poured their heart and soul out onto a page, and now they get to see it in print. It is great to see the writers reading their work aloud to their peers and to people from the outside, and it is why we do the work that we do. We get to play a part in spreading their voices with the Fort Collins community, something that could not and would not be done with the work of the interns and the volunteers that lend their time and energy to these projects. The reading will take place tomorrow night, and I don’t think that there’s a better form of closure for the workshop. The readers and facilitators get to see all the hard work of the semester in one final product, and then hear it read from the authors themselves. This is the best way to end the semester, so I will be there and listen to their reading, which is what the publication is for! Thanks CLC, GOODBYE!!!

As we began discussing this morning, Hansen charges literacy workers with developing culturally responsive literacies through expanded and diverse definitions of literacy.  She describes attempting this through her event and mural project in the LINK Up project.  How have you been considering ways to be culturally responsive in your CLC literacy work?  Choose a programmatic, administrative, pedagogical or other moment to describe how you are thinking about this.

I think it is incredibly important to be culturally responsive in literacy work. Literacy works only reaches its full potential when the cultural background of the participants is taken into account. Working with SpeakOut! at LCDC has made me very aware of the separate “jail” culture. When we come in each week, we have to remember that they live very different lives than we do. They are fully aware of life outside of jail, but when we see them, they are separate from us in that sense. Even our clothing “marks” us, we are coming in from the outside. It goes back to the altruism idea, we don’t want to be under the impression that we are “bringing something” to these participants, because it goes deeper than that. In the workshop, we strive to convey ourselves as writers, and everyone in the room are writers. However, there is a very different cultural idea at work, and it definitely comes out in their writing.

I think that we try to be culturally responsive to the women by giving them prompts about what their life is like, and what jail is like. We give them chances to write about their personal life story, their own “culture”. Many of the women write about their experiences in jail, and a few of them actually wrote peices titled “12 days at LCDC”, where they commented on the guards, the showers, and everything in between. I remember one poem by a woman that was very interesting, and it had to do with the gnats that fly out of the women’s sinks. It seemed silly on the surface, but her poem was about talking to the gnats and them understanding her life in jail, and it was actually very moving.

I don’t think that many people outside of the jail understand that there is a separate jail culture. The women that we see on a weekly basis are confined, living with roommates that they didn’t choose. They are under close supervision, and are told when to shower, eat, and do laundry. This creates a space for a new and largely misunderstood culture. This comes back to the whole initiative of SpeakOut!, which is to give these people a voice to talk about their culture which they would not otherwise have.

Research Update

Finding time to work on this research project has been MUCH harder to come by than I thought! However, I have been able to do some research so far, and plan to work on it for a few hours this weekend and on Thursday. Basically, for my project, I want to make the concept of community literacy understandable and applicable for the regular-joe citizen of Fort Collins. To do this, I’m going to write an essay tackling the questions of- What is community literacy? What is community literacy in Fort Collins? Why is it important? (So what?) What does it mean to me specifically in working with the SpeakOut! program at LCDC? How can people on campus and in the community get involved? What are some organizations looking for volunteers and how do you contact them?

This essay will be the base of my project. It will include statistics, information, and interviews with local community literacy leaders. So- how do we get this info out to the community? Well, here on campus it would be through flyers and through “The Collegian”. I hope to write a short article utilizing information from my essay about local community literacy and ways to get involved, with a spotlight on the CLC. For the larger Fort Collins community, I would like to create a pamphlet for distribution around the town using the same information.

Here’s the information I’ve come across so far on that first question- “What is community literacy?”

Question: What is community literacy?

Answer:

The “Community Literacy Journal” defines community literacy as “the domain for literacy work that exists outside of mainstream educational and work institutions. It can be found in programs devoted to adult education, early childhood education, reading initiatives, lifelong learning, workplace literacy, or work with marginalized populations, but it can also be found in more informal, ad hoc projects.” Community Literacy Journal website, “Focus and Scope” http://www.communityliteracy.org/index.php/clj/about/editorialPolicies#focusAndScope

Community literacy works to understand and define texts within a community. It can include social relations and communication around and issue important to a certain community.

Some obstacles associated with community literacy include the idea that there are teachers with expertise and knowledge, and there are passive listeners who do not participate. Community literacy works to bridge the gap between these two sets of people. For example, members of a local neighborhood may not agree with the decisions of their government representative, but will not take action because they believe their voices will not be heard or make a difference. A lack of shared experience can also lend to non-participation.

Community literacy in practice, then, can lead to social justice and individual development. It requires diversity in participants, active engagement, questions/problems to be discussed, shared experiences or interests, and a respect for differences in opinion.

Possible example: www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_4/bishop/, www.isrl.illinois.edu

Community literacy can also be as basic as teaching adults or children to read and write. The Community Literacy Center in Oklahoma City is “dedicated to teaching adults to read” and offers “basic skills, short courses, a family program, and also provide tutor training and workshops for volunteers”. http://www.communityliteracy.com/about-us/

The Carnegie Mellon Center for University Outreach also defines community literacy. “Community literacy projects let diverse people come together to make a difference through writing, speaking up, and speaking with each other about shared and public concerns.” http://english.cmu.edu/research/inquiry/two.html

Advocates for community literacy push for the availability of forums where underserved or underprivileged populations can have the opportunity to both discuss and write about issues that matter to them. It is important that literacy in this sense not only be defined as reading, but as writing and discussing as well. This creates the possibility for social action through writing, and gives people a voice in their community that they would otherwise not have.

In her essay, “Resisting Altruism: How Systematic Power and Privilege Become Personal in One-on-One Community Tutoring,” Beth Godbee asks us to consider the systematic can become personal through tutor-writer (or in our case facilitator-writer/reader) relationships. We raised some of these issues at the “Writing and Trauma” reading when we discussed how we might create appropriate relationships and experiences with our community writers/partners. What is your thinking on this? Where do you create boundaries in your relationships? How do those boundaries work to challenge or reify power relations?

At the jail and during the SpeakOut! workshops, there have definitely been instances where certain relationship boundaries are put into question. Since myself and the other facilitators have been coming to the jail for a long time now, (almost a year for myself), we feel very comfortable walking in and talking to the employees and the inmates. When we go to the pods to get them, sometimes we are torn between our duty to the jail and our duty to the women, as some of the time these are in direct conflict with each other. They want to talk and joke with us in the halls, but as I learned at training, we are not supposed to speak while in the hallways. Also, there have been very emotional moments in the actual workshop when the women share their writing with us. They normally write about personal experiences, some of which haven’t been positive. When they share these emotional writings, it is difficult to know how to respond, especially in the moment. Mostly we say “thank you for sharing”, or “it must have been really hard for you to write/share that”. Women have shared things, joked, and laughed with us. This internship has shown me how important the facilitator-writer relationship is. I like the line in Beth Godbee’s essay “can connect across systematic inequalities through personal conversations”. I have connected with people that I never would have otherwise through this internship. In the workshop room, we are all writers, and our social/economic or any other status doesn’t matter when we’re writing on the same prompt. We also do not have the luxury of one-on-one facilitating; we do it with a group and as a group. This can provide both advantages and disadvantages, like we talked about in the training. I really hope that we do not focus on the “privilege” of the facilitators, but strive to create an equal forum of writers. Of course we have to lead and prompt the women, and at some times, if things get out of hand, be authority figures, but for the most part I think we handle it pretty well. I like Godbee’s approach to not seeing the participants as the “other”, which I think is an easy trap to fall into. I hope that the women in the SpeakOut! program view us as equals in the writing community. n her essay, “Resisting Altruism: How Systematic Power and Privilege Become Personal in One-on-One Community Tutoring,” Beth Godbee asks us to consider the systematic can become personal through tutor-writer (or in our case facilitator-writer/reader) relationships.  We raised some of these issues at the “Writing and Trauma” reading when we discussed how we might create appropriate relationships and experiences with our community writers/partners.  What is your thinking on this?  Where do you create boundaries in your relationships?  How do those boundaries work to challenge or reify power relations?

At the jail and during the SpeakOut! workshops, there have definitely been instances where certain relationship boundaries are put into question. Since myself and the other facilitators have been coming to the jail for a long time now, (almost a year for myself), we feel very comfortable walking in and talking to the employees and the inmates. When we go to the pods to get them, sometimes we are torn between our duty to the jail and our duty to the women, as some of the time these are in direct conflict with each other. They want to talk and joke with us in the halls, but as I learned at training, we are not supposed to speak while in the hallways. Also, there have been very emotional moments in the actual workshop when the women share their writing with us. They normally write about personal experiences, some of which haven’t been positive. When they share these emotional writing

Both Barony and Zwerling discuss narrative–Barony compares the work of life writing to the challenge of translation and Zwerling discusses the power of public representations of Mexican-American students’ lives in creating learning opportunies.  Consider your own community project.  What role does narrative or story-making play?  For whom?

I thought the Barany reading was particularly interesting, especially when she talks about how writing is a “foreign language”. I had always looked at writing as a way to bring people together, not separate them, but I realize that it does take hard work to do so. I have found in reading some of the women’s work that I get confused, and that I can’t always relate to them. It is important to understand our place as facilitators and that we sometimes need a little “translation” to understand the ladies’ work. She also emphasizes the importance of understanding audience, something that I think we as facilitators need to talk about more in the workshops. I completely agree with Barany when she says that the writers already know what they want to talk about, they are just searching for an effective way to say it. That’s where we come in- we help them put their ideas to paper in a way that makes sense. We have to ask relevant questions and provide prompts that will elicit their best ideas.

I was also interested by the Zwerling reading, especially his sentence “Writing and reading are not just marketable skill sets. They separate us from the beasts of the field by allowing us to participate in and shape social and political life.” This caught me off guard, and I’m not sure I agree with it. I think that speaking and oral practices can also shape social and political life. Zwerling talks about how writing is a way to reach and obtain power. I think this is true for the SpeakOut! workshop- these women feel powerful when they read their writing and it is shared with the community. Their voices, normally imprisoned, are being heard. When he talks about his partnership with the park, I think of our partnership with the jail and how the employees there help us out every week. It couldn’t be done without thier permission and support.

It is ironic that this post is about lifewriting, because we are about to start a three-week lifewriting section at SpeakOut! We will focus on personal narratives, histories and geographies, and timelines and events. Since we haven’t done this since I have been working at the jail, I am excited to see what the women write about when they are asked to speak of their own personal experiences. I’m sure many of them have a lot to write about, and we are going to give them the forum to do it in.

Here we are at the end of your first semester at the CLC.  I’d like you to use this final blog entry to reflect a bit on your work and think strategically about how you are assessing the work you’ve done over the past few months.  Begin this way:  Visit www.proliteracy.org and explore their “Impact of Literacy” section (it’s mostly links).  Pay particular attention to how the various organizations present assessment.  What measures do they use?  What measures do you think are most appropriate for your community project?  What can be assessed?  What should be?  Focus your thinking here on reflection informed by assessment (since the focus of your reflection essay will be on your learning).

The various organizations on proliteracy.org measure mostly in quantitative terms. On the NAAL website, they use a background questionnaires and measure adult reading levels and literacy skills. These organizations mainly present assessment in the form of tests in order to see the progress of literacy. I know that the CLC has been struggling for a while to come up with an effective form of assessment to include in grant proposals. I think that specifically for the SpeakOut! program at LCDC, a questionnaire such as the one that Doug came up with would be most effective. On proliteracy.org, they also use surveys. I think surveys may also work for the SpeakOut! program. There is always the issue of people coming in and leaving the jail at unexpected times. Many of the women are simply gone suddenly, which makes it hard for an exit assessment. I think that we should connect something with the permission to publish forms that measures the extent to which the women enjoy writing and how much they understand. After about 4 weeks, if any of the women have been there for all 4 sessions, we should give them an exit survey, even if they are not technically “exiting”. I don’t know if the LCDC is really a place to measure “literacy” in a sense that the proliteracy.org website is presenting it. We are not there to really “teach” reading and writing, but rather provide an outlet for creativity and an opportunity for community recognition. However, I think that an entrance survey along with “exit” surveys given about every 4 weeks to women who have attended a certain number of sessions would really help with showing progress and for grant proposals.

Let’s use this week’s blog to discuss the independent work you’ve been exploring (Mathieu’s essay too, if you want).  What have you found?  How does it relate to your CLC work?  Give a citation, brief synopsis and make some connections…

The essay “Poetry and a Prison Writing Program: A Mentor’s Narrative Report” by Lisa Rhodes discusses many of the same issues that we deal with through the SpeakOut! Program at the LCDC. While the workshop she observed was specifically a poetry workshop, there are many similarities. She talks about the difficulty the women face once they exit prison- how they return to the same circumstances as they left, without any skills for rehabilitation. She describes writing as “a catharsis to help them through their struggles, the door in which they can recreate their life”. Rhodes goes on to describe some of the prisoners’ poetry, discussing fear of darkness, loneliness, lost love, time, religion, guilt, sorrow, questioning, and hope. She notes that the prisoners had these themes in common, which relates to Emily Nye’s claims about narratives as a binding and comforting force. Rhodes writes, “they wrote their poems as a vehicle to reclaim their lives and to find a rationale for their existence”. I believe that many of the writers in the SpeakOut! workshop feel the same way.

In the Mathieu reading, one line that struck me was when he wrote “We have found that establishing a writing group involves an ongoing process of negotiation and struggle to define (and redefine) a collective identity that works for the individual writers”. I think that this is definitely a challenge that many of us face working with the CLC. The writers for the journal are presenting themselves to the community as a collective identity, and this is bound to conjure some conflict. I also found it interesting that the members of the StreetWise Writer’s Group used writing to create social change and discuss the injustice (as in the Gregory Becker case). This shows the true power that writing does have when given a purpose.