ENGL 520 has been offered consistently since 2015. Each class has 12-16 students who are split into pairs. The students are assigned to CPL branches across the city to assist with “Creative Writing Club,” where they design a creativity session for children ages 8 to 15, while gaining experience supervising high school volunteers who support the sessions.
Students are required to create their own learning plans, travel to their assigned branch, work with the children for one hour each week, and reflect on successes, challenges and the connection to weekly class readings. Many students who enrol in this course are concurrent education students who often take the course a year before practicum to develop teaching skills such as communication, conflict-resolution and creative thinking. This opportunity allows students to harness the skills acquired as undergraduates and, through experience, create their own tailored learning plan.
Throughout the term and concurrent to working out of the CPL, ENGL 520 in-class activities include weekly theoretical readings about experiential learning, community service and civic responsibility which students use to inform their creativity sessions. There are also discussions between students around teaching strategies so that they can learn from one another. Bennett and Forlini also make CPL site visits to observe their students, while graduate teaching assistants take an active role in sharing ideas and facilitating reflective discussions with students.
ENGL 520 has introduced various benefits and mentorship opportunities for instructors, students and high school volunteers. Students who have trouble speaking in public often learn they are able to find their voice and embrace new leadership opportunities. In addition, students gain a sense of responsibility and commitment as the class size is small and the course success relies on each student. Near the end of the term, CPL representatives are invited to final presentations by students to collect feedback that can be integrated into their programs.
Creative Writing Club has proven a popular initiative, both online and in person, so that the library is looking at expanding its offerings because of this increase in interest and engagement. Most recently, it asked ENGL 520 students to pilot an online version of Creative Writing Club to help CPL continue to serve communities despite public health restrictions on in-person programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The online version has been so successful that there are plans to keep an online version running alongside in-person programming, even as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
As a result of their commitment to enhancing teaching and learning practices, Bennett and Forlini were recipients of the 2020 University of Calgary Teaching Award for Experiential Learning Initiatives. They also received the Calgary Public Library’s Volunteer Teamwork Award in 2018.