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- phase in-progress
Youth Studies, an interdisciplinary undergraduate program within the School of Social Work, prepares students for youth work practice and youth scholarship, emphasizing work with urban young people. The program's 3-member faculty offers courses emphasizing community engagement. Assignments in this major reflect this emphasis and include site visits, program observations, service-learning, international exchanges, and internships.
Writing in Youth Studies
Youth Studies’ faculty generated the following four broad categories in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”
Critically reflective and reflexive: Reflecting on one's own lived experience in relation to another person supports high quality practice and also informs scholarship on practice (and scholarship in practice). It includes identifying one's own assumptions, situating the experience in relation to another person, and recognizing and acknowledging that there are multiple perspectives to any single experience.
Descriptive: Scholar practitioners need to be able to describe a situation and have the capacity to separate self from interpretation and judgments. They need to be able to describe what happened and the multiple ways this situation or experience has been/ or could be interpreted by others. Students should also know how different theoretical perspectives provide unique explanations of situations and experiences.
Analytic: Faculty also agreed that students need to move beyond describing positions to analyzing and to bringing in multiple forms of evidence to critique and challenge personal, practice, and scholarly assumptions. Special emphasis should be placed on connecting and attending to how ideas are historically constructed, and how certain assumptions about young people are presented as "scientific," when often they connect more to a moral stance. Good Youth Studies writing brings together multiple points of view and draws a conclusion using supporting evidence.
Persuasive: Youth Studies aims to develop scholar-practitioners. Communication in this field often requires persuasion. Indeed, Youth Studies writing seeks to spark action: to receive funding, to gain permission to offer a new program, to support youth voice and agency, and to create community, policy, or organizational change that better supports young people to flourish. Much of the writing is directed outward to convince others of a better response, intervention, or program. Writing is always audience directed, and writing in the field is characterized as responding to multiple audiences (community, practitioner, scholar, and policy-maker). Writing often requires translation of evidence (including narratives) to other audiences and writing concisely and descriptively so that evidence is understood and can be responded to by additional stakeholders.
Writing Abilities Expected of Youth Studies Majors
The Youth Studies faculty generated the following list in response to this question, “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”
Create Data: Students have to be able to convert what they see, hear, and experience into data that can be analyzed, not only to document and improve their own practice but also to demonstrate, with evidence, that what they did mattered and how. Writing abilities expected of students include:
- Create detailed, concrete, concise descriptions of situations, experiences, and practice.
- Situate and understand one's lived experience in relationship to someone else, such that one can recognize and appreciate what is shared and what is not.
Analyze Data: Human service practitioners also need skills in analyzing, interpreting, and drawing out insights from data that can be used to inform and shape practice. This includes not only nomothetic forms data but also idiographic forms of data. Skillful practitioner-scholars can synthesize and contextualize data in ways that expand how the data can be read and understood. Analysis also includes bringing in a wide-range of data to critically analyze data and demonstrate its limitations. Writing abilities expected of students include:
- Locate, understand, and apply relevant theories,concepts, and discipline-specific content to expand understanding of young people's everyday lives.
- Gather relevant data from a variety of empirical, narrative, and historical sources.
- Mobilize a variety of types of data for constructive, value-based arguments about the situations and conditions of young people's everyday lives.
- Analyze and synthesize data collected to create better ways of understanding young people's everyday lives and how individuals, communities, and society could respond.
- When interpreting an issue/ situation/ action, notice and analyze personal assumptions and biases and construct alternative interpretations based on different assumptions and biases.
Inform and Persuade: As a program focused on developing scholar-practitioners, Youth Studies also wants students to write in a way that both informs and persuades others to take action. It is not enough to communicate what one knows about an issue, but they must also understand their audience and write in a way that prompts the reader to act on what they know. Writing abilities expected of students include:
- Inform and persuade a variety of lay, scholarly, and professional audiences about one's programs and services in ways that capture the voices of subjects and that (where appropriate) evoke empathy and actions in readers.
- Use appropriate scholarly citation styles when required (Youth Studies recommends APA, but supports Chicago as well). Depending on purpose, writing style and audience paper uses appropriate grammar and spelling.
Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Youth Studies Courses
The Youth Studies faculty translated their list of expected writing abilities into the following menu of grading criteria, a menu from which appropriate items can be selected and adapted by all departmental instructors:
- Describes a situation concretely and in adequate detail.
- Demonstrates an ability to find and use one or more academic theories presented in class or from relevant sources to convince a specific audience about the importance of an issue/program design/practice decision.
- Provides multiple ways student writer’s experience can be understood by drawing from necessary and relevant theoretical, scholarly, and community sources…presents data appropriately within a chosen research paradigm.
- Presents data appropriately within a chosen research paradigm.
- Demonstrates an ability to synthesize data by summarizing or critiquing two or more individual sources and explicating a relationship between them.
- Has been proofread and is free of errors that prevent readers’ comprehension.
- Captures the voices of the subjects that (where appropriate) in ways that evoke empathy and or/action in readers.
- Demonstrates an understanding of the target audience by writing in a style that fits the audience, for example: scholarly, journalistic, practice-focused, policy-focused).
- Includes an action and response that is reasonable and realistic given evidence provided.
- Cites sources in an internally consistent way such that sources can be easily found by readers.
- Provides multiple ways student writer’s experience can be understood by drawing from necessary and relevant theoretical, scholarly, and community sources.
- Formulates a persuasive argument.
Highlights from the Writing Plan
Youth Studies’ first-edition Writing Plan focused primarily on the understanding, conceptualization, improvement, and assessment of assignments across the major through the sharing of assignments, curriculum mapping, and two lively faculty-workshops. Youth work practitioners from the larger Twin Cities community also spoke to the students and faculty about the many ways in which writing, as well as other forms of communication, are critical to the field.
The program’s second-edition Plan continued the focus on assignment review and coordination, deepening faculty understanding of students' experience of writing in the major, and developing faculty understanding of digital stories as a way to enhance student communication skills, including writing. Focus groups were conducted to gather student impressions of writing and writing instruction in the field and major. A clear theme that emerged in focus groups in 2018 around writing in Youth Studies highlighted a cohesive address of content but a relatively non-cohesive approach to writing instruction and assessment between courses. For example, one student commented: "The content, I think, really flows together between [different courses] and really interlocks with each other. But writing...it's different styles and it's kind of like different tools at all times." Thus, in small and large group meetings, faculty members continue to learn more about what others are doing in their classes and about ways to align what they are doing with the work others have done previously, what others are doing concurrently, and what others will do in subsequent courses.
Approved in Fall 2018, Youth Studies’ third-edition Writing Plan builds on a department-wide commitment to deepening faculty understanding of students' experience of writing in the major and to increasing instructional cohesion and reinforcement among the curriculum’s courses and instructors. The faculty is dedicated to addressing the student perception that while approaches to content are cohesive, approaches to writing instruction vary from course to course.
To implement its third-edition Writing Plan, the faculty has launched a three-pronged strategy: First, they will leverage members’ expertise in programmatic assessment by designing and completing an annual process evaluation. This evaluation process will look at how the Youth Studies faculty has implemented WEC activities and how these activities impact student writing abilities and student writing experiences in the major. Second, in order to better understand students’ writing-related concerns and to connect students with existing sources of writing support, the department has hired an experienced graduate student who will serve as an embedded “writing coach.” Third, the faculty has planned a series of facilitated discussions that will focus specifically on teaching with writing in courses that enroll high percentages of students from underrepresented populations and/or who are first-generation college attendees.