Preparing Students and Faculty for Productive and Effective Community Engagement

In the Engaged Learning Program, we are thinking about work that can be done to prepare students and faculty for productive and effective engagement with communities. If we adapt learning and teaching strategies that have worked in community-based settings for learning on campus, we can also use those practices as we facilitate student engagement in communities. Learning to listen to every voice, becoming attentive to different ways of understanding and perceiving the world, and developing civic agency and fully participatory habits: these are all available through innovative approaches to teaching and learning that have their roots in community-based pedagogies.
 
One of these approaches is Pre-Texts, a train-the-trainers program that distills theoretical approaches to literature and community-based engagement strategies into a simple protocol that fosters close reading of texts, creativity, and civic agency. Pre-Texts uses literature (broadly defined) as a point of departure, by inviting participants to interact with and reflect on a text through multiple art forms. Developed by Harvard professor Doris Sommer through the Cultural Agents Initiative, Pre-Texts is highly flexible, and has been used successfully in a full range of settings.  Grounded in community arts and organizing strategies gleaned from Latin American contexts, Pre-Texts proposes that the arts and humanities are necessary for civic engagement. Collaboration with the Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard on Pre-Texts is now a key component of the Engaged Learning program in the CFDE.
 
Recent practice demonstrates that this approach can be used in undergraduate and graduate settings, and as a community partnership-building tool. Pre-Texts is a central element of the Modern Language Association’s K-16 Alliances Working Group. At Emory, Pre-Texts has been used in at least 10 undergraduate courses and one graduate course, in faculty groups as a reflection tool, as a community partnership building strategy with the Latin American Association, and in Emory’s Graduation Generation partnership with Atlanta Public Schools. Director of Engaged Learning Vialla Hartfield-Méndez just presented a workshop at the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia, in collaboration with Professor Sommers and Emory Professor of Spanish Karen Stolley, past president of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages and professor.
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