Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Writing In Concert: Learn

ENGL 145.401
crosslisted as: AFRC 145, URBS 273
Tuesdays 1:30-4:30 pm
fulfills requirements:
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

Student writers will begin a website and blog to find and document extraordinary learning in Philadelphia schools. This course challenges student writers to articulate, argue, meditate, and persuade in traditional and new media forms stories about children’s learning and the social mechanisms we create to teach them.

Beginning with writing about their own education, including in-school and out-of-school learning experiences, student writers first will determine what they want to discover about learning. Then they will find topics that let them explore it. A fascination with generational language learning, for instance, could lead to a woman I know, an Albanian-language counselor who translated for Albanian-born parents who came weekly to an evening seminar their children’s teacher created to teach them the week’s math homework—culminating in a phenomenal leap in the math scores of this group of children and the parents’ joy at being able, for the first time, to help their kids in American school.

Student writers’ inquiry may include a wide range of topics within academic, socio-emotional, physical, or cultural learning. It can focus on students, families, teachers, staff, administrators, volunteers; system-wide issues of funding; legislation; programs, initiatives; the careers of individuals or the learning of individual students or discreet groups. Student writers will learn about their area of focus from documents; from conversations; and from observation.

Student writing will write answer the need for future writers and hobbyists alike to master short-, medium-, and long forms. They will use essays, blogs, tweets, Q&As, and illustrate them, where needed. The point is to increase the clarity and care with which student writers observe, ask questions, analyze, organize, and tell what will certainly present as complicated stories. It is easy to write about learning that hasn’t happened. Like writing about illness, education-bashing has an easy vocabulary. But the long learning apprenticeship of our young distinguishes humans from other mammals, and our delight in it gives our lives meaning and hope. We’ll look for that meaning and document it in clear, insightful, sometime surprising, prose.

In class we will work together on skill-building in the beginning, comparing progress and offering help in the middle of the term, then workshopping essays in the final third.

Portfolios will include students’ best writing, about 10-12 pages of it. In it’s first year, this course is learning, too, and we will determine as the course progresses how much student writing is appropriate to publish on our website. In this first iteration, “English 145: Learn” will launch the site and begin to determine its ambition, including the ability of university writers to create work not just to submit for a grade, but to participate in its time and place.