Building Communities For Writing – Promoting Literacy Skills For Life

Submitted by Web Communications on September 27, 2012

Jack Powers, teacher at Joel Barlow High School (Redding, CT), Dr. Bryan Crandall and Julie Roneson, teacher at Discovery Magnet School (Bridgeport, CT) share stories of a new school year before the community event.

Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, is quick to give credit to the many youth communities that have influenced him as an educator, literacy mentor, and life-long learner. His gratitude arrives from over ten years of teaching high school English in Louisville, Kentucky, and an additional five years working with refugee youth from Somalia, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Guinea at Syracuse University. “If we want to better serve the needs of young people in school,” reported Crandall, “we need to pay more attention to their communities and supporting the literacy skills they will need for life.”

Dr. Crandall illustrated the importance of communities on September 13th at Brooklawn Country Club during a conversation hosted by Susan Carroll, GSEAP advisory Board, and Fairfield University Alumni Association. Community Matters – Supporting Writers Beyond School, highlighted how current testing and the limited preparation educators have for teaching writing lead to bad practice. National writing assessments are lackluster and achievement gaps remain large (especially in Connecticut). Even so, Crandall addressed that today’s youth compose more than ever before: texting, blogging, posting on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and even crafting “fan fiction” on sites like Polyvore. His goal as the Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield is to create several networks, both inside and outside of school, to support the writing of youth and teachers. He emphasized the importance of community, which he also described as Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a Bantu word first spoken in regions of Liberia. It means, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Individuals, he explained, are always part of a larger system. “Writing helps us to belong,” Crandall explained, “especially when we have familiarity with the genres communities use.” He learned Ubuntu from his cousin, Mark Crandall, founder and director of Hoops4Hope and from several of the young men he worked with during his dissertation research. Hoops4Hope promotes Skills4Life with youth in S. Africa and Zimbabwe: Focus, Responsibility, Self-Esteem, Self-Awareness, Sense of Humor, Ubuntu, and Integrity. “They are the same skills the young people I’ve worked with needed to become successful writers in the United States,” Dr. Crandall emphasized.

To revitalize strong writing practices in schools, teachers must tap into the purposes youth have for writing and assist them to communicate to audiences that matter to them. There are plenty of opportunities to inform, persuade, argue, reflect, and entertain beyond state assessments – the skills required by the Common Core State Standards. “Put students at the center of curriculum,” argues Crandall, “and scores will increase. We should be teaching the kid instead of teaching the test. Sadly, this is not what is promoted in school, especially urban districts.”

Dr. Crandall praised local efforts of programs such as the Young Writers’ Institute at Fairfield University, which hosted 60 young people this past summer. He also commended local educators for their involvement with the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. “When I was in the classroom and looking for leadership and support to be an effective teacher, the National Writing Project came to the rescue,” explained Crandall. “I knew when I left the classroom to earn a doctorate, I needed to promote the mission of the National Writing Project. In order for teachers to be better teachers of writing, they must write themselves.”

Throughout the evening Crandall shared writing achievements of students from Kentucky, New York, and Connecticut. He explained their accomplishments were the result of communities who believed in the power of young people to write. To better promote literacy skills for life, we should pay more attention to the worlds young people inhabit. From listening to them, schools can do a better job of promoting writing.

Story by Heather Goldberg, Graduate Student in Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation

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