Service Learning, Literacy, and Boise State
For homework this semester, a group of Boise State English 101 students spent some quality time showing elementary students at Garfield Elementary School how to say “friend” and write letters in Arabic, Chinese, Persian, and other languages.
This “homework” assignment is part of Emily Simnitt’s cross-cultural English 101 class, a section of First Year Composition that partners with Service Learning to give students experience in analysis, critical thinking, and writing in a context outside of the classroom. As part of Service Learning, Simnitt’s students exchanged letters with first, second, and third graders in an afterschool tutoring program at Garfield run by Boise State.
On the last day of the program, members of Simnitt’s class visited the Southeast Boise elementary school, bringing the last set of letters and meeting one-on-one with the children to share experiences learning to read and write.
The letter exchange was the culmination of a semester-long exploration of literacy. Simnitt’s students first explored literacy by working with Read to Me!, an Idaho Library Commission project that provides materials to parents of young children to help them prepare those children to begin school and to learn to read. The program had identified the need to translate these early literacy materials into Arabic and other languages to serve a growing population in the area.
The Boise State Service Learning Program matched the project with the Simnitt’s literacy-themed class of cross-cultural students, who speak 12 languages and come from all over the world, from Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, China, Peru, Iran, England, South Africa, Rwanda, and the US.
Drawing on the collective knowledge of the class about literacy, language, and culture, students translated the documents into their native languages and spent class time exploring and writing about literacy barriers and their own experiences learning to read and write in their native languages and English.
The class concluded that making reading fun for children is one way to improve literacy. To enact this solution, the Boise State students began the letter exchange with the young readers in the tutoring program at Garfield, also run by Boise State’s Service Learning Program.
“This project engaged my students with reading and writing for multiple audiences, a key component of First Year Writing,” says Simnitt. “At the same time, my students were able to use their unique skills to address a need in the community and have the opportunity to be role models to children who are just beginning to be readers and writers. Partnering with Boise State’s Service Learning Program this semester has provided so many great opportunities for my students to learn and to serve!”
What some English 101 students said about the project:
• “My favorite part of the of the READ TO ME! project was translating. It was fun doing an official translation and sharing our stories about our process of translating.”
• “It gave me a lot of knowledge about reading and how to make readers understand much better by using good words to explain.”
• “Our work will help parents understand how they can teach their children and make them good readers in the future.”
• “I learned new vocabulary playing games with the kids at Garfield. That was something I did not expect.”
• “The kids were great. I hadn’t spent much time with kids before. I enjoyed getting to know them.”