This Winter Quarter, instructor Jen Finstrom is putting a twist on WRD 377: Writing and Social Engagement. WRD 377 courses always include an experiential learning component—typically, students will complete mandatory service-learning hours by going out of the classroom to serve and collaborate with communities and organizations in Chicago. What makes Finstrom’s course unique is that while it remains grounded in experiential learning and community service, students in this WRD 377 class are primarily collaborating and working with their Chicago community online rather than in person.
How? Students in WRD 377 give written online feedback to sixth graders writing poetry at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy. Finstrom’s class has also paired with the Digital Youth Network (DYN), whose Chicago City of Learning online platform is what WRD 377 students use to provide feedback on the poetry that the Saucedo students write.
In class, WRD 377 students work on tasks and activities aimed at crafting effective written feedback via a web-based platform. At the beginning of the quarter, for example, students provided feedback together in class to take advantage of the community of talented writers within WRD 377 itself. As the quarter progressed, Finstrom explains that students also spent time “making an introduction video, reading sample poems, providing sample feedback and critiquing sample feedback, [and] looking deeper into the ideas of community and identity for both ourselves and the sixth grade writers.”
“On one occasion,” says Finstrom, “we’ve even written poems to share with the Saucedo students, since it seems like we can more effectively form a community if we’re sharing some of the same experiences.”
Even though the majority of communication between DePaul and Saucedo takes place online, Finstrom and her class were able to visit Saucedo Scholastic Academy earlier this quarter and hope to do so again before the quarter ends. The visit was a moment that Finstrom remembers as a high point for the class: “It was the first time the classroom community came together with the Saucedo community. They even made a poster to welcome us.” WRD 377 students were able to develop their relationship with Saucedo students at the visit, too. After previously having contact with the young writers over the internet only, WRD 377 students were able to spend time with them in person and answer questions. Finstrom says, “The sixth grade classes that we talked to wanted to know so much about what college was like, how we picked a major, and other things that went beyond writing.”
WRD 377 student Miriam Vicovan also recalls the visit as a highlight of the course: “During the first visit to the students, I was completely blown away by the participation of the students and the chemistry between the Saucedo students and the DePaul students. We had a lot of fun getting to know one another, and based on the contribution of the students, I can already see that they feel championed and valued by our class and our school.”
In addition to making further connections with the Saucedo students in person, Finstrom says that one of the best things about the course has been “making connections with some wonderful people: Sybil Madison-Boyd, the Learning Pathways Program Director, and other team members from DYN, along with the two Saucedo teachers whose writing classes we’re working with and who have been so very welcoming—Alexandra Krueger and Marlena Gustafson. It has been a tremendous pleasure to form these connections.”