Sponsoring Literacies

Tobi asks:

Consider the issue of “sponsoring” discussed by Deborah Brandt in light of your upcoming community literacy work.  What might it mean to sponsor the literacy of a writer/learner at your site?  What implications can you anticipate?  How might your own literacy be sponsored by the writers/learners you’ll work with?

Elliott and I have talked about this (more broadly, anyway) the last two times we’ve discussed the goings-on at Turning Point. “What might it mean?” He has cultivated an open and honest atmosphere where the boys can come and express themselves freely. He works consciously to avoid being a “teacher” and instead to be a “facilitator.” This is precisely the kind of attitude I’m going to be taking in — I want to make it clear that I’m a resource for the boys to use if they want to get into form and into professional writing expectations and what not. But it’s more important for me to perpetuate that environment that Elliott has cultivated, to first and foremost let them know that this is a safe place for them to use their voices, and that I will be a support system for their work, and that ultimately they will have the choice to share this work with their friends, their family and with the world.

So getting more specifically to the first question, “what will it mean to sponsor a learner,” it will mean reaching out and ensuring that they each are adequately provided with the means and the external motivation for self-expression. Individuals, then, will find in me individual encouragement and acceptance for their work.

“What implications can you anticipate?” (Anticipation of a new environment has never been a strength of mine.) One thing that is certainly sitting with me is the idea that I’m there to help them with their writing, not to be their therapist. I’m neither trained nor authorized for that kind of thing. At best, by sponsoring their writing I’m acting as a proxy for their therapist in the sense that they are working with their ideas, they are challenging and exercising their minds, they are releasing tensions and most importantly they are using their voices.

“How might your own literacy be sponsored…?” In two ways, at least. First, this is one hour a week spent in a writing workshop (with boys whose language is significantly different from mine) that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise spent writing. (Not to mention the preparation time, in which I will at least be passively addressing the prompts in my head… or however much time it will take me to process their writing and give them supportive feedback.) The second way comes with a broader definition of literacy — I’ll have an understanding of these boys and in what it means to lead a workshop (which experience I hope, eventually, to take into my future classrooms).


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