Community-Engaged Multilingualism and Literacy

English 391: Multilingualism and Literacy in Western Massachusetts

Course Description

This course explores literacy in the lives of adult language and literacy learners in the communities surrounding UMass. Grounded in the field of Literacy Studies, an area of English Studies that examines the practice of community-based, academic, and non-academic writing, the course connects “school” literacies to the “everyday” literacies that impact all of our lives. Beyond exploring what “literacy” and “multilingualism” mean in our current moment, we will examine the following questions:

  • Why is literacy understood to be important and why does that understanding persist?
  • How is literacy in English the same or different as literacy in multiple languages?
  • How do people come to be praised or condemned for their literacy practices?
  • How does a diversifying society define literacy as effective, creative, or failing?

Community Engagement

This class is a unique opportunity to participate in a community-university collaboration on literacy and language learning. In the second half of the semester, our class will partner with the International Language Institute in Northampton, which supports the language learning of community members, immigrants and refugees, professionals, international students, and scholars. This work will happen in two ways: 1) supporting ILI students through tutoring and mentoring, and 2) writing curricular, logistical, or creative materials for the organization. The course fulfills a service-learning requirement for the UMass interdisciplinary Certificate in Civic Engagement & Public Service (CEPS). Please contact CEPS advisor Kris Nelson at if you are interested in applying to earn the Certificate.

Learning Goals

English 391 aims to be useful, providing writing support for ILI students and organizations and community experience for UMass students. But it also aims to be important, complicating commonplace assumptions about literacy, applying such complications locally, and helping all of those involved develop more nuanced understandings of literacy’s impact on local communities. Therefore, the learning goals of this course are based on the idea of connection:

  • Students understand how literacy impacts individuals and communities.
  • Students participate in the reality of literacy learning outside the classroom.
  • Community members and students connect to each other’s life experiences through literacy.
  • All participants connect literacy as skill with literacy as cultural, economic, and political force.

Required Texts

Illegal Alphabets and Adult Biliteracy: Latino Migrants Crossing the Linguistic Border by Tomás Mario Kalmar

Buying Into English: Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World by Catherine Prendergast

American by Paper: How Documents Matter in Immigrant Literacy by Kate Vieira

Optional Texts

Writing and Community Action: A Service Learning Rhetoric by Tom Deans

Writing Communities: A Handbook with Readings by Steve Parks

From the Community, to the Community: A Guidebook for Participatory Literacy Training by Elsa Auerbach

Course Assignments

Literacy Analysis (1000 words)

An analysis of literacy beliefs. The goal of this paper is to critically examine how scholarly understandings of literacy are or aren’t compatible with everyday understandings of literacy. Choosing one of three analytic options—analysis of literacy beliefs in immigration news, in your family, or online—you will explain what you think the consequences are of how literacy is understood beyond our classroom.

Connection Paper (1250 words)

An analysis of literacy theory in practice. As we explore several theories of multilingualism and literacy, this paper asks you to consider these concepts in light of your experiences creating materials for or working with multilingual writers. The goal of this paper is to “connect” theory to practice, critically examining how scholarly understandings of multilingualism and literacy play out in action.

 ILI Engagement and Materials (variable length)

Around mid-semester, you will begin dedicating two hours per week at or to the International Language Institute (ILI) in Northampton. Depending on the ILI project you participate in, you will craft a text for use by the ILI. These written projects may include an international homestay guidebook, curriculum for a driving course, materials for tutoring, or website text.

 Reflection Notebook (8 entries)

About once per week, you will be writing ungraded reflective analyses and responses to community experiences in a Reflection Notebook kept on Moodle. Notebook entries should be 250-300 words and are due at midnight the night before they appear on the syllabus. These notebook entries are the generative writing for your papers as well as a log of your service experiences that will serve as data for your literacy philosophy.

 Literacy Philosophy (750 words)

Drawing from your reading, thinking, reflection notebook, and papers from the entire semester, you’ll write a short, reflective literacy philosophy that illustrates where you now find yourself among the competing social and academic understandings of literacy explored in the course.

Tentative Course Calendar

Please note that the calendar is “tentative” which means it is subject to change. It’s difficult to predict how any one class will go, so occasionally things may be altered if I think the changes will better facilitate your learning. All assignments listed on a given day should be completed for discussion on that day.

Week 1 T 9/6 Introduction to course and to one another
Th 9/8 Discuss Brandt

Due: Notebook 1

Week 2 T 9/11 Discuss Deans “What is Literacy”
Th 9/13 Discuss Kalmar chp. 1

Due: Notebook 2

Week 3 T 9/18 Discuss Kalmar chps. 2, 3
Th 9/20 Visit from ILI Executive Director Caroline Gear

Discuss Vieira chp. 1

Due: Notebook 3

Week 4 T 9/25 Discuss Vieira chps. 3, 4
Th 9/27 Discuss Vieira chps. 5

Due: Notebook 4

Week 5 T 10/2 Discuss Lam
Th 10/4 Writing workshop

Due: Literacy Analysis Draft

Week 6 T 10/9 No class – Monday schedule

Due: Final Literacy Analysis

Th 10/11 Discuss Parks; Morton
Week 7 T 10/16 Discuss Parks; Perry

ILI staff class visits

Th 10/18 Discuss Lippi-Green

Due: Notebook 5

Week 8 T 10/23 Discuss Lorimer Leonard
Th 10/25 ILI work
Week 9 T 10/30 Discuss Prendergast chp. 1
Th 11/1 Discuss Prendergast chps. 2, 3

Due: Notebook 6

Week 10 T 11/6 Discuss Prendergast chps. 4

ILI work

Th 11/8 Writing workshop

Due: Connection Paper Draft

Week 11 T 11/13 Due: Final Connection Paper

ILI work

Th 11/15 Discuss Marko et al.

Due: Notebook 7

Thanksgiving Break
Week 12 T 11/27 Discuss Marko et al.

ILI work

Th 11/29 Discuss Auerbach

Due: Notebook 8

Week 13 T 12/4 Discuss Auerbach

ILI work

Th 12/6 Redefining terms
Week 14 T 12/11 Course wrap-up

Due: Literacy Philosophy

T 12/18 Due: ILI Materials