Podcast #51

Stephanie Bower and John Murray teach writing at the University of Southern California, and have been co-teaching “Writing in the Community” for almost 10 years. Their students are matched with community groups where they write essays and research papers, and create short video documentaries about and with community members. The experience is powerful for all involved, and in our conversation John and Stephanie give us the behind the scenes perspective. This is a great episode for anyone who teaches writing or is interested in giving students extra motivation to work on their assignments.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcome John and Stephanie! Teaching creative writing outside USC, as well as upper-level writing courses.

5:13 Teaching writing to juniors and seniors: they know more about who they are and the academic context. “Writing in the Community” is not connected to majors from a specific discipline.

12:03 Writing with the community means learning that reality doesn’t always meet your pre-conceptions–including academic ones.

16:47 Why film in a writing course? People share it. Influenced by This American Life and participant-produced media.

22:21 Finding community partners for students to work with.

26:07 All the learning you do in teaching a course with so many moving parts.

  • Through Glass, a moving student-created documentary about a visit to Avenal State Prison

31:06 Emphasizing the ethics of representation: making sure you fairly represent the people you’re working with.

40:34 Student writing and re-writing: blogging and more. Getting students to reflect on how they evaluate films first, and then transferring that to writing. Doing research to discover rather than to prove.

44:33 Helping students work through chaos applies to both writing and math. It’s not just a problem set.

47:10 Teaching writing to ex-lifers? How it got started. More like listening and a workshop. How teaching ex-convicts is a lot like teaching undergraduates. Wrestling with identity. Learning inside a disciplinary institution.

58:53 You can’t always doff your institutional authority: some people want you to have it.

1:00:11 Tips for helping your students write better? Use authentic assignments. Talk about process. Normalize struggle.

1:06:15 Teaching fails? Knowing when to intervene and when not to. Overloading student with work and being flexible about deadlines. Get students to evaluate each other on group projects.

1:10:59 Thanks and sign-off.

Learn more about the amazing work of Stephanie, John, their students, and the groups they work with: