Writing Partners: Bridging the Personal and Social in the Service-Learning Classroom

Writing Partners: Bridging the Personal and Social in the Service-Learning Classroom

Sarah Blomeley (Belmont University, USA) and Amy Hodges Hamilton (Belmont University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2900-2.ch012
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This chapter describes and analyzes a writing assignment, an oral history project, developed for a college-level service-learning composition class. In bridging the writer with a single community partner and inviting the pair to jointly compose a memoir, this assignment can create a successful service-learning experience by engaging students and community members in projects that are beneficial and hold important personal, social, and political implications. The chapter also considers how the project, up to this point used successfully in local service communities, might fare in international service learning contexts.
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Belmont University, a private regional comprehensive university in the South, made experiential learning a required part of its general education curriculum in 2005. Students must take two experiential learning (EL) courses at Belmont which

include an out-of-class component that involves the students in “doing” an aspect of the course. These active learning experiences complement the students' in-class learning. Essentially, the experience applies the course of study, giving it greater resonance, while the classroom studies give the students' “doing” greater contextualization” (Belmont University Experiential Learning, n.d.)

Belmont University is not alone in this move toward experiential learning as part of students’ general education requirements, nor are they alone in including service-learning under the “experiential” umbrella. Service-learning programs have grown as a result of national organizations like Campus Compact, American Association of Higher Education, and Council for Adult Experiential Learning. Service-learning in higher education is a powerful way to engage students with the local and global communities in which they live and work, as well as increase their cultural competencies and sense of civic responsibility. Barbara Jacoby (2015) defines service-learning as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs, together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes” (p. 2). Its benefits are being noted across college campuses and at academic conferences more each year. Butin (2010) further highlights these benefits:

Service learning advocates point to research demonstrating that service-learning enhances student outcomes (cognitive, affective, and ethical), fosters a more active citizenry, promotes a “scholarship of engagement” among teachers and institutions, supports a more equitable society and connects colleges and universities with their local and regional communities. (p. 3)

As service-learning programs continue to grow and develop, Eby (1998) and others note that service-learning practitioners are in need of robust, vibrant examples of successful service-learning assignments if they are to evolve beyond programmatic and logistical concerns. This chapter offers one such assignment--an oral history project assignment developed for a college-level writing class, which is adaptable to a variety of grade levels and individual contexts. In this assignment, student writers are linked with community partners, and together they either compose joint memoirs centered around a common theme (such as family, loss, or addiction), or they collaborate to produce an oral history of the community partner’s life. This project has been implemented successfully in an upper-division college course for English majors, but it could be easily adapted for general education writing, humanities, or social science courses; study abroad courses; or high school writing courses. In bridging the writer with a community partner through a long-term writing project, this assignment can create a successful service-learning experience by engaging students and community members in projects that are mutually beneficial: the students receive valuable experience in a real-world writing context and develops a deeper understanding of their community through interactions with the writing partner, while the writing partner receives a polished piece of life writing and an opportunity to tell a story that may not otherwise be heard by a wider audience. It can, in other words, invite the writing partners to empathetically engage with each other as they collaborate.

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