ENGL290 is an interdisciplinary, community-integrative course that engages students in the study of academic composition and writing pedagogies within the fields of composition and rhetoric, literacy studies, cognitive psychology, urban studies, and education. Students in the course develop theoretical frameworks for learning and teaching writing and assist a public high school in establishing a self-sustaining peer-led writing center.
In Fall 2015, Professor Finlayson taught this course for the first time. And while it was largely successful and certainly inspiring, there were several aspects of the class that she hoped to revise and expand, particularly in light of the new Educational Studies Major and Tennessee Teacher Licensure at Rhodes. For anyone pursuing the Methods Track within the Ed Studies Major and for anyone seeking secondary licensure, this course is now a requirement. Her goal for the Mellon Innovation Fellowship was to strengthen and expand the Rhodes impact on Shelby County Schools high schools and their students by integrating educational technology and enhancing and broadening our SCS partnerships.
This course without question deliberately connects academic and student learning goals with community engagement. Students in the course developed theoretical frameworks for learning and teaching writing within the fields of composition and rhetoric, literacy studies, cognitive psychology, philosophy, gender studies, urban studies, linguistics, disability studies, and education. Assisted by faculty from across disciplines, Professor Finlayson considered this range of approaches to writing, learning, and teaching and focused especially on collaborative methods and their use in high school and college peer tutoring centers. With this emphasis in mind, students in the course moved beyond the classroom and into two Shelby County public high schools to collaborate in a peer-led writing center. In addition to seven training visits to the schools, approximately 50 SCS students and their administrators and faculty came to campus to collaborate with Rhodes students.
Unlike many community-integrative education-based courses that provide one-on-one tutoring for a single semester, the project goal was innovative in that it aimed to develop an ongoing resource that the schools themselves could sustain over time. Rhodes students met with administrators and dozens of SCS students to shape the structure and goals of a peer-led writing center in their respective high schools and also trained these students as tutors. Mellon student fellows identified, researched, and tested a variety of digital, online writing and teaching tools that were then used in SCS training sessions. By late October, two SCS writing centers were in full operation and several other high schools had contacted Professor Finlayson about future partnerships.
Having heard about this work at Central and Soulsville High Schools, White Station High School is eager to partner with Rhodes next year. The first meeting established that WSHS students from both their traditional and optional programs will serve as peer writing center tutors. Further, WSHS administrators are eager to develop a national Writing Center model for AP Capstone Diploma schools across the country. With increasing institutional support and with the database of Rhodes alumnae working as SCS administrators and faculty (established by Mellon student fellows), this project will continue to grow. The emphasis on community engagement and on the value of interdisciplinary work in the course and at the college writ large ensures a healthy and productive future.