History of the Community-Based Writing Program at Wayne State University

We offered our first community-based writing course, supported by a small grant from Michigan Campus Compact, in the Winter, 1998 semester. The course, entitled “Crossing Generations: A Writing Course in Oral History”brought three groups together to create oral histories: fifth-grade school students from Burton International School, WSU students in English 3010, and long-time Detroit residents from the St. Patrick’s Senior Center in Detroit. The students worked together to interview and compile a book of oral histories featuring the senior citizens. The book was then sold as part of the Center’s annual spring fund-raiser.

The course was taught by Elaine Latzman Moon, a PhD student in English and author of Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes: An Oral History of Detroit’s African American Community, published by Wayne State University Press. Ms. Moon’s book served as the primary text. The goals of the class included the following: to teach students to “obtain effective strategies for accessing and evaluating different forms of writing and cultural productions”and to “use writing for a variety of purposes, both inside and outside the University.”

In the Fall 1998 semester, Prof. Gorzelsky taught a community-based graduate seminar on urban literacies. In this course, students tutored in a Detroit Public Middle School and studied theories of literacy, pedagogy, and tutoring. By completing writing assignments designed to prompt experiences and reflection on middle schoolers’experiences of literacy instruction, graduate students in the seminar considered how cultural difference and variety in discourses intersect with literacy.

Developing a More Comprehensive Program: 1999-2001

Building on the success of these first courses, in 1999, Profs. Gwen Gorzelsky and Ruth Ray received an Institutional Development Grant from Indiana Campus Compact to develop a more comprehensive service-learning component in composition.

With support from this grant, they developed an extensive mentoring program to assist graduate teaching assistants in creating their own service-learning courses around an after-school program at a Detroit middle school.

Also in that year, Gorzelsky and Ray received an Educational Development Grant from the University to redesign and teach two graduate seminars in composition around the theory and practice of service-learning and to support a group of four newly trained GTA’s in their integration of teaching and research in service-learning.

This original group (Paul Gelinas, Karen Keaton, and Thomas Trimble) presented at local and national conferences together, and went on to write master’s essays and dissertations on community-based writing.

A New Tradition of Teaching and Research at Wayne State: 2001-present

Between 2001 and the present, Profs. Ray and Gorzelsky have regularly facilitated summer mini-seminars and directed studies during the academic year to train GTAs to design, teach, and conduct research in community-based courses.

Between 1998 and the Winter 2006 semester, thirteen graduate students have done community-based teaching. Two have completed dissertations on community-based pedagogy and gone on to full-time, tenure-track positions in which they are drawing on their WSU experiences with community literacy.

Profs. Ray and Gorzelsky continue to develop the graduate program and to shepherd students through the process of completing their PhDs. They focus their efforts on building relationships with community partners and generating new opportunities for graduate students to teach and conduct research in community settings.

From 1998 to the present, our program has thrived on the involvement of exceptionally dedicated graduate students, scholars and community partners.