In the search for literacy websites online, I came across a nonprofit organization called Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop that maintains a very productive web space. The website has a simple layout and is very user friendly. The format is similar to our site, but makes more sense and offers more information. They definitely have a fully developed website which differs greatly from ours and have some pages on their website that I would like to see included in ours as well.


One thing I like most about this website is that it is immediately identified as the ‘home website’ for this program; where I am not even sure if our ‘home site’ is our blog site or the community literacy page. If an intern doesn’t know the public won’t know either.


An “About Us” page includes sections such as: “Our Mission”, “Our Vision”, “Our History”, “Whom We Serve”, “Who We Are”, etc. Background knowledge is something our potential volunteers, donors, and supporters would like to know about us. This might be an easy inclusion on our website considering the history of our program is static and would not need any updating. More enticing info embedded in this site is a “Success Stories” page with bios and interviews with the (post) incarcerated. Interested parties would get excited about our program if they could read about these things listed above on our website.


This website included a sort of tribute page – for their supporters and donors. Also built in is a “Make a Donation” page. Easier access to making a donation might benefit us in our quest for funding.


A link to a Facebook page is present on this website. It would be great if SpeakOut! had a Facebook page for a greater internet presence. This Facebook page is updated regularly (about 9 times a month) including pictures, events, writing from the workshops, books, program events, etc. This page has almost 600 “likes” and others have posted into this page as well. What an awesome way to get the word out on social media!


This nonprofit hosts what they call a “Volunteer Write Night” where community members “gather to read and respond” to the writing of the incarcerated. This is a great idea to get the community involved in our program. Advertising for such events on campus and throughout the community (posters, newspaper postings, etc.) would be a great venue to have our program become word of mouth. I love this idea and desire to start something like this for SpeakOut!


This program seems to be highly staffed since there is so much going on in this web space. It is apparent that they really value community involvement and I’m sure they are successful because of that goal. In our current task team this kind of website would be impossible. We simply do not have enough hands to maintaining web spaces and conduct community events. I wonder if we could recruit some interns or highly committed volunteers to run a fully fleshed SpeakOut! website, Facebook page, and various community events. As it stands now our blog site has very little appeal to (potential) supporters. Our CSU website also has minimal appeal to outsiders. Web space and presence is highly important for a program like ours. I would love to see our program thrive off of an incredible website. The tools above are what it takes to get us there.

Research Project

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

My project is centered around the SpeakOut! volunteers. Ideally I want to create a space for them that is both helpful and interesting.  The past few weeks I’ve spent time thinking about volunteer’s needs and how to support them in the work they are doing. In my quest for knowledge I googled “supporting volunteers” and viewed a few websites that gave me good insight to my project. What I kept reading over and again was that managers of volunteers need to know and support the members of their team.

Getting to know our volunteers is crucial to assess how to best serve their needs for this web space. Conducting personal interviews will help me to become familiar with issues they might be experiencing at their site as well as getting feedback that they wish to dispense about the program. If I cannot meet directly with volunteers perhaps I can issue a survey – similar to Edward’s survey for 3.0 (

Supporting our volunteers means that we avoid burnout, show appreciation, and maintain a high-level of morale ( I believe that through this web space we can accomplish all of these things. Acknowledging our volunteers with a volunteer bio page, similar to our “meet the staff” page, would be a simple way to help our volunteers feel needed and appreciated. The bios wouldn’t be anything too elaborate: a brief introduction and an answer to the question “why do you chose to volunteer for this program?” or “what is your favorite part about the SpeakOut! program?” Although I did find in a blog about volunteers that written consent is needed for publishing their photo on our website.

The purpose for this volunteer based web space is 3 pronged:

  1. To provide informative materials on the SpeakOut! program (for prospective volunteers)
  2. To provide access to volunteer resources and documents
  3. To provide a space to share lesson plans, prompts, etc.

As far as my third prong goes, I feel that through our monthly newsletters Lauren and I have already established a space for idea and lesson sharing. To avoid redundancy, this space might become a place for volunteers to access versus share.

Also in order to further connect our volunteers (and to attract more) I am thinking about creating a SpeakOut! Facebook page. This Facebook page would also help get our program’s name out into the social networking world. The page would need quite a bit of maintaining, so this idea is still in progress.

Witnessing Trauma

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

The process of writing through trauma changes lives. As Jenny Horsman claims in her article “‘But I’m Not a Therapist’ The Challenge of Creating Effective Literacy Learning for Survivors of Trauma” – “we cannot take refuge in the silence about such trauma” (2). Change takes place through the acknowledgment of traumatic experiences in writing.

Often literacy and the proclamation of trauma go hand in hand. The effects of traumatic experiences provide opportunities for writing to take place; and the literacy skills provide means of expelling said trauma from the hidden, innermost part of our being (3). Healing takes place when opportunities are created for acknowledging violence and abuse in the sphere of our workshops.

Already this semester we have witnessed the expression of traumatic events through writing. Words hit the paper with raw, deep, and utterly truthful meaning. The unfurling of oneself tied with the recognition of trauma results in healing through acknowledgement. With the humility that comes through using literacy skills to respond to trauma, the writer has an opportunity to gain a sense of control, connection, and meaning in their lives (4).

We as facilitators play a big role in aiding this process – mainly through responding and bearing witness to their story. It can be easy for literacy learners to feel that they are “not valued” in their process of writing on a topic they might feel scared or uncomfortable with (4). Our job as witnesses, according to Horsman, is to do “more than address [the] ‘damage’” that we witness (5). When we respond to the writing process and recognize the risk they take; a breakthrough takes place in the life of the writer – both in their writing sphere and their healing process.

During the CLC training conference on understanding writing and emotion we heard family and couple therapist Jenn Matheson speak on this topic. As facilitators we need to recognize that our role is not one of a therapist. Rather our job is to bring the focus back to writing. It is through writing that these women experience change, control, and freedom, and it is our obligation as facilitators to foster that process inside the workshop.


Posted: December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

It may be just the fact that it’s time for finals, but trying to strategically assess the work I’ve done over the past few months seems a bit daunting. Where do I start? What’s the criteria? In perusing around on the ProLiteracy website I found one particular assessment that I liked best – one that I can identify with in my own assessment of this semester’s workshops. Here a bit of the general program assessment titled:


Our Impact

“Advocacy means ‘being a voice.’ Just as our member programs help adult learners find their voice through the written word, ProLiteracy members themselves are also a voice promoting adult literacy as an important social and political concern, both in the U.S. and around the world.”


So maybe we aren’t promoting adult literacy throughout the world. With 4 of us inters, that might be a little bit tricky. But the part I identify my personal work with is the first sentence and a half. What we do is show our writers that they can have a voice; and that voice can be discovered and fostered through writing – both in and outside of our workshops.
We are stepping inside a community where most people don’t feel like they have a strong and active voice in the world of literacy and illustrating the fact that each and every one of them does have a place in the literacy world. They just have to put themselves out there a little bit to recognize it. Our successfulness through this project can be judged by the attendance and participation that arises from the workshops. Ultimately the proof of our success will be sitting in the hands of all of the readers and writers at our poetry reading tonight. The SpeakOut! Journal we publish is the assessment. What other way is there to assess what we do?

Emily Nye acknowledges the emergence of a healing process through writing. The writers she worked with wrote to heal the pain, to recover, replenish, renew, understand… Each writer in the workshop was supportive of their fellow writer’s experiences and writing. I agree with Nye that writing has the power to do many things – “to nourish, encourage, and sustain ourselves, to enter into a caring relation with all parts of ourselves” (392). Writing “clears the mind of unsolved trauma, [fosters] problem-solving abilities…forces people to synthesize many overwhelming memories…alter one’s perspective…enhance self esteem…sort out and order their experiences” (395). Writing helps people come to conclusions, “to make sense of their lives, [to] become more aware of their lives and recon with their pasts” and by doing so, “develop a sense of the whole of their lives” and existence and “fight back” by sharing their stories (405). Through the process of writing together in a writing workshop, Nye’s writers became part of a “whole”, part of a “community” in which each writer felt cared for and cared for the others (406). This is precisely why this article frustrated me. This reading left me unsatisfied and made me feel like there is something missing in our workshops. Everything that Nye experienced in her workshops is nothing that I experience in mine.

In stark comparison, our workshops time is spent on structured activities, prompts, and exercises. Our writing is focused on the styles of writing rather than the content of what is being written. I feel like this is mainly due to the fact that the writers pull back when the writing becomes intimate. When these writers are invited to reflect and write about painful or personal times in their life, we facilitators get a bunch of blank stares. The pens are put down, the arms are folded, and the healing process is refused. Upon recognizing this we thought ‘sure, lets bring the focus back to writing’ and we started bringing in lessons around “Gothic Writing” and “Riddles”. No doubt these lessons are fun; it’s always great to learn a new style of writing or to read about a mysterious author. But what are the writers getting out of it? What are the writers getting out of these workshop sessions as a whole? Is it just so they can get published just for sake of saying “my poems got published’?

What also is striking to me is our writing atmosphere. This workshop was established as a place for writing, sharing, (healing, possibly?) and ultimately for publishing. But there is so much hostility in the room. Writers feel afraid to read their work for fear of becoming rejected (subjection to eye rolling, no feedback, glares etc.). We are starting to have writers pass their work to be read aloud by their neighbor. They can’t even claim their own voice! I get the feeling that the writers feel like what their work doesn’t matter. Each week the number of readings and poem submissions are diminishing. This workshop is becoming a place of sociality, chitchat, and gossip with inmates from other pods. But I feel that this community, especially, could gain so much from writing! As the facilitator, I know that it is my responsibility to redirect the women to writing; to demonstrate the importance of writing as a tool for self-expression and healing. But to some extent the writers have to be receptive and embark on this journey on their own accord. I know that not every writer is going to experience stages of enlightenment through their writing; but I am starting to question what really is the goal and purpose of these workshops.


Outside of Your Own Literacy Box

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Literacy and Language mean something different to every person. The two are not synonymous and do not share a cohesive meaning. In Anzaluda’s essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”, for example, she discusses how music and cultural tradition mean just as much to her as language does. When talking about “Petra: Learning to Read at 45”, Rigg offers ways in which her ideas of literacy differed from Petra’s.

Lets jump into “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”. Throughout the whole essay, Gloria Anzaluda shows us how language has caused her to feel left out and shameful. Anzaluda hesitates when speaking the Spanish language to other perceived Chicana or Latina women and finds herself “afraid of their censure” of he skills in dialect. This occurs because language and vernacular are important and can come under attack (80). But a “low estimation of my native tongue [is] a low estimation of me”, claims Anzaluda (80). Often times us Anglo Americans don’t think of how our language will represent us as a being, other than embarrassing ourselves in front of our professors or bosses. But to people of other languages it is personal; it is a way of identification. Language can create unity or separation. It can be spoken in code or be diminished in validity based on biases. Individuals who speak two languages often experience “dual identity” and never really feel a sense of belonging. In ways I’ve never thought about, language can be such a determining factor for so many elements of life.

Now for Pat Rigg. Her article focuses on the differences in purpose and importance of literacy. The author carried a psycholinguistic view of reading, whereas the student, Petra, was mostly concerned with the letters of what she was reading. To the student new to reading and writing, “literacy meant drawing clear letters” (7). This goes to show that people’s perceptions of literacy and language differ, as do their goals for reading and writing. If Rigg was to enforce her own view of literacy on Petra, literacy would not have a personal meaning to her and she most likely would not even grasp the beginning concepts of reading and writing.

Petra claims early in the essay that she has a “right to literacy”; and I think she’s onto something (2). Aren’t we all entitled to literacy? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to read and write at an early age? If it is a fundamental part of survival in this world, why doesn’t everyone have access to learning resources? But I digress…

At our site there is a basic knowledge of literacy amongst the women – they all can read and write sufficiently. Which, by the way, came as a big surprise to me on week 1…but then again I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m sure literacy means something different to each of us. Personally I like to write about things that are personal to me; writing in such a way helps me keep in touch with the side of me I do not speak aloud. But when I bring exercises and prompts intended for self-reflection and self-interpretation the women easily reject them. Sometimes our writing is fruitful and explores deep topics of the self, and sometimes our pens just can’t do our selves justice. And there isn’t a thing wrong with that. This example just shows how literacy means different things to each person. I think it is important as a facilitator to cater to all kinds of literacy interpretations and, in turn, that flexibility helps us grow as writers, facilitators, and interpreters of literacy.

Gee, Plato, and Literacy

Posted: October 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Across history and across various cultures, literacy has seemed to many people to be what distinguishes one kind of person from another kind of person. Literate people are, it is widely believed, more intelligent, more modern, more moral. Countries with high literacy rates are better developed, more modern, better behaved. Literacy, it is felt, freed some of humanity from a primitive state, from an earlier stage of human development. If language is what makes us human, literacy, it seems, is what makes us civilized” (26). We strive, in our workshops, to introduce our writers to writing that will enhance their literate capacities and strive also for them to create writing that shows discursive thought. We are a melting pot of writers with different levels of “literacy”, but that does not, in the least, hinder our ability to appreciate writing and even to write cohesively. Writing is something that is universal and spans among all types of individuals.

For Plato, literacy was “authentic uses of language…always educational in the root sense of drawing out of oneself and others what was good, beautiful, and true” (29). The writing that we do in the jail is without a doubt a beautiful, genuine extraction of the self through paper and pen. But Plato also saw literacy as both a “liberator” and as a “weapon” (30). While writing is a personal and very moving experience, he argues that a piece of writing can get into the wrong hands and cannot, therefore, defend itself against wrongful interpretations. Free interpretation was thought by Plato to be the worst case scenario; all writing should have a definitive, authoritarian voice, guiding its reader to arrive at the proper conclusions. However it is seen in our workshops that there can be many interpretations of a single piece of work, and none of them wrong. We do not abide by Plato’s model for literacy in the context of these workshops. I think Plato’s specific purpose for literacy (being interpreted “correctly” by means of the author) is an idea that is outdated and left behind.

So then Gee begs the questions: “what are the capacities of literacy?” and “what good does (could) literacy do?” (33). In response to those questions, this article addresses that literacy gives rise to “higher-order cognitive abilities, more analytic and logical thought [processes]”, and I could not agree with these responses more (33). Within our workshops, I can definitely see these qualities being displayed in the writers. The writing prompts and exercises that we bring often makes the writers stop and think. Whether it is to think about qualities about oneself personified through characteristics of a house, or to think about life in the context of another human being, literacy stretches the minds of these writers. That being said, literacy is definitely a much broader concept than simply being able to read and write. Gee says that “literacy leads to logical, analytical, critical, and rational thinking, general and abstract uses of language, skeptical and questioning attitudes, a distinction between myth and history, [and] a recognition of the importance of time and space” (26).

This article starts to focus on literacy by means of education. While what we do in these workshops is not tied to any sort of educational curriculum, fortunately – education does not directly correlate with personal growth and development. So that means that what we do through these workshops actually do promote personal growth and development, since they are not centered on state standards or vocational training. We are promoting personal growth and development through enhancement of one’s writing and writing process as well as providing exposure to other types of writing and poems that the writers might not otherwise gain access too.

In most contexts literacy is taught in different ways according to the different classes of society, and those class requirements. For example, the article claims that individuals belonging to lower classes are typically taught “docility, discipline, time-management, honesty”, and other facets of literacy that would enhance their productivity in low-wage jobs; while higher classes were generally taught “analytical skills, critical thinking, discursive thought and writing” to suit their position in management-type positions (34). This is quite the range of skill sets, and results in unequal learning and notions of literacy. What I love about our program is that we promote all of these types of skills. In our workshops we practice time-management, honesty, analytical and critical thinking skills amongst others as well. It might seem trivial to say that we promote analytical skills and critical thinking through a simple writing workshop, but what immediately comes to my mind is that through reading, hearing, understanding, and reflecting on the poems that are presented in the workshop (whether from peer writers or well-known authors), these writers are forced to understand these poems contextually and discursively – perhaps in ways and perspectives that they are not particularly familiar with. To put it simply, we provide means of furthering these writer’s ideas of and capacities of literacy on a personal level. We are giving these writers an opportunity that perhaps they have never been given before. Giving them goals that they themselves may not have considered themselves capable of accomplishing. Through our program, we are promoting literacy.