Public Writing Initiative partners writing class with Mid-State Literacy Council

Megan Poole
April 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On March 3, 2020, the Mid-State Literacy Council posted a special entry on their website that featured a Penn State student’s interview with a member of the State College community who had benefited from Mid-State’s educational program.

This student sought to understand the lasting effects of tutoring and literacy coursework for adults in Centre County. What that student, and 23 others, discovered is that because the global community is filled with a rich web of languages and cultures, we all benefit from expanding what we know about literacy.

This project — blogging about literacy — began under the direction of instructor Layli Miron, who brought the Public Writing Initiative into her English 30 class, “Honors Freshman Composition,” so that her students might put their writing skills to work for a local organization like Mid-State. The Mid-State Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that seeks to bring literacy in all forms to adults in Centre County. In 2019, over 200 adult learners received services at Mid-State, and nearly 250 volunteers ranging from Penn State students to retirees generously offered their time and expertise to equip community members with lifelong skills. Together, tutors and teachers help adults gain independence by earning a driver’s license, becoming citizens and acquiring job skills.

Photograph of a room of students listening to Amy Wilson

Students in Layli Miron’s English 30 class listen to Amy Wilson discuss the mission of Mid-State Literacy Council.

IMAGE: Penn State

Because the forms of literacy needed by adults in the community range from the textual to the digital, from media to health, Mid-State’s mission is often difficult to articulate to the public. The Literacy in Action blog, as conceived by Mid-State Executive Director Amy Wilson, serves to concretize the range of literacy work accomplished by the council in Centre County. Through the Public Writing Initiative partnership, Miron’s students composed 24 entries for Literacy in Action, ensuring that the council will have regular blogging content for the year 2020-21.

Mid-State ESL Program Director Tracy Roth described the impact of the Public Writing Initiative this way: “Students in the Public Writing Initiative gave voice to [Mid-State’s mission] through interviews and blog articles and informed our community about the need for English and literacy instruction, especially in receiving medical care and communicating in the emergency room and with doctors and healthcare providers.”

Each year, the Mid-State Literacy Council offers “English for Doctor Visits” classes and tutoring in health literacy topics, including reading medicine labels, describing symptoms and recognizing and preventing cancer, heart disease and other conditions. Speaking to the work of such classes, some of Miron’s students wrote about how often hospitals fail to provide translators for non-English speaking patients and how many doctors working in communities with a high immigrant population report that nearly 75% of their patients have limited proficiency with the English language.

Miron’s students mentioned that the most challenging part of writing blog posts was thinking about the kinds of visuals that would grab viewers’ attention. Many students said they relied upon infographics, tables and charts to represent statistics. Reflecting on how visuals altered her own thinking, one student said, “When the tables showed just how much immigrants [in particular] are affected by literacy, the reality of the situation was brought to life.”

The reality of Mid-State’s mission came to life for Miron’s students, but they hope that blogging about literacy brings others to turn their attention toward this matter as well. Given how often immigration emerges in present political conversations, the work of Mid-State Literacy Council, the Public Writing Initiative, and Miron’s students, is an opportunity to examine how it is that people communicate with each other.

Photo of students writing on laptops

Writing students composed blog posts for Mid-State Literacy Council through the Public Writing Initiative’s Commissioned Assignments Program.

IMAGE: Penn State

And during this time of remote learning, the Public Writing Initiative remains committed to bringing students in contact with members of the local community. Currently, guest speakers are talking with students live via Zoom, as well as pre-recording answers to student questions that may be watched at a later date. Commissioned assignment work is also ongoing, as students are communicating with and delivering content to local businesses via email and other online platforms.

For more information regarding how the Public Writing Initiative can enhance your virtual classroom, email publicwriting@psu.edu.

About the Public Writing Initiative

The Public Writing Initiative (PWI) is a project of Penn State Learning that brings community leaders into undergraduate writing courses to familiarize students with real-world writing opportunities and challenges. The goal of the PWI is to highlight for Penn State students the importance of writing across the curriculum in all fields and disciplines, and ultimately, in all careers. The PWI is staffed by graduate student instructors and assistant teaching professors in the Department of English. To learn more about PWI, visit sites.psu.edu/publicwritinginitiative.

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Last Updated April 07, 2020