Workshops for high school AP students led by CU Literary Buffs cultivate connections, mutual learning
Some area high school students are better prepared for college-level writing thanks to help from University of Colorado Boulder English students, who have, in turn, gained experience and confidence in making public presentations.
The fortuitous arrangement began when Northglenn High School English teacher Maria Clinton asked the university to find someone to coach her Advanced Placement (AP) students on college writing. Her request landed on the desk of Adriane Genette, who teaches for the Smith Honors Residential Academic Program and the Herbst Program of Humanities for Engineers.
Genette is a writing consultant at the Writing Center in Norlin Library and the drop-in Writers’ Lounge in Farrand Hall.
She also happens to be the faculty mentor of the Literary Buffs, an undergraduate student group launched by the English Department last year. The Literary Buffs meet twice weekly to engage in intellectual literary discussions and creative-writing exercises.
They swap stories and critiques, attend literary events and participate in activities that boost their connection with the literary world. Genette saw the high school’s request as a great opportunity for the Literary Buffs.
“Originally, I was going to make the presentation myself, but I thought the high school students would really love hearing from and working with their peers—kids closer to their own age group,” said Genette.
“Plus, the Literary Buffs would benefit from the experience by putting their education into action. Teaching other students what you have learned is a great way to master the material.”
As a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school, Northglenn focuses on accelerated learning, particularly for its AP language arts and AP statistics students.
Each spring, students must complete a comprehensive research project. Before the group’s arrival, students had chosen topics, completed an annotated bibliography and written their thesis statements.
Under Genette’s direction, the Literary Buffs prepared a two-part workshop series designed to introduce students to research techniques and college-level writing. Approximately 137 Northglenn students participated.
Literary Buffs Lukas Devries, André Gianfrancesco, Sean Guerdian, Sydney Chinowski and Ben Elrod led the presentations and guided general question-and-answer sessions that followed. The Northglenn students broke into groups, with a different CU student leading each one.
The first workshop, held at the high school on Sept. 25, compared sampling in the music industry to writing with sources in academia. They played an NPR audio clip, which illustrated how musicians incorporated snippets of music from other artists into their own music.
So far, our students are doing much, much better than last year. They definitely benefited from the work your students did on scholarly sources; I’ve only had to push two of my students to look for different sources. … I know that [the Literary Buffs] were nervous and were not sure if they helped our students, but they definitely did.”
Using the clip as an example, the Literary Buffs initiated conversations about the similarities and differences between sampling and quoting and discussed the importance of researching, evaluating and attributing sources.
The CU group also distributed examples of good college writing, including a five-paragraph essay, a sample college essay and a college-level thesis.
The Literary Buffs returned for the second workshop on Oct. 9 to help students use the techniques they had learned to write a sample paragraph. They also answered additional questions and concerns and assisted students in their own research projects.
Response to the workshops was positive.
“This was the first time that the Literary Buffs were involved in a teaching/mentoring kind of activity, and once they got past the anxieties of the presentation, I think they thoroughly enjoyed it,” Genette said.
“The high school students also benefitted from the exchange, although their questions seemed more geared toward finding out what life is like as a college student rather than how they could produce a solid research project. But it was great to have the Literary Buffs there to make that kind of connection.”
In a follow-up letter, Clinton wrote, “So far, our students are doing much, much better than last year. They definitely benefited from the work your students did on scholarly sources; I’ve only had to push two of my students to look for different sources. … I know that [the Literary Buffs] were nervous and were not sure if they helped our students, but they definitely did.”
For the future, the Literary Buffs plan to organize more excursions to Northglenn and other local high schools.
“What we put together for Northglenn illustrates the positive potential of collaborations between the CU English Department and local high schools,” said Genette.
“Opportunities such as these benefit not just the high school students, but also our CU students who have the chance to take on leadership roles.”
Kim Elzinga is marketing and communication specialist at the CU-Boulder Department of English. For more information on the Literary Buffs, click here.