College of Education

Literature as a Lens

During adolescent years, students read books that may reflect personal issues. Whether it’s during junior year of high school and one envisions prom night to hold the glamour of Gatsby’s party, or whether one is in the midst of middle school awkwardness that Jerry Spinelli captured so clearly, it’s likely that you related to at least a few of assigned readings. The Creative Inquiry, Teenage Triumphs and Tragedies: Using Adolescent Literature as Lens to View Our Lives, studies the readings that best improve the link between books and adolescent emotions.

Creative Inquiry advisor Dr. Kathy Headley, interim director of the School of Education, and her students meet bi-weekly to in order to discuss adolescent novels. Books are selected from professionally recommended book listings of award-winning and highly ranked selections, as well as popular reads among adolescents. The Creative Inquiry team members select four books that the group will read and one book to read individually. Previous readings include October Mourning, Blue Plate Special, the Twilight saga and The Hunger Games trilogy—some of which focus on serious topics such as bullying, cancer, violence and mental health.

Donnie Wilson, a senior who is double-majoring in English and secondary English education, believes that the book characters’ problems highlight challenges in everyday life. “The books we are reading may have fictional problems and fictional characters, but the problems that they have can be related to someone’s life, or my own life,” she said.

Group discussions frequently focus on whether a current book is appropriate to teach in a classroom setting or if it would be better located in a library where students can read it on their own time. Justin Holliday, a graduate student pursuing his Masters in English, believes that this project will impact his future as a classroom teacher.

“I have learned more than I had originally thought possible,” Holliday said. “I learned what kind of young adult literature I would like to integrate into my curriculum because I learned that this type of literature is worthy of study, whether in a secondary or post-secondary classroom. I am fascinated by the motif that promotes hope even in the darkest novels.”

By using adolescent literature as a lens to view lives, the group discusses their future classrooms and ways to help adolescent students deal with personal issues through assigned readings.

This Creative Inquiry team refers to themselves as a “book club” because they all share a love of reading and appreciate the opportunity to read literature together. Headley believes that she and each book club member operate with an emphasis on student leadership and an overall goal to understand the impact of adolescent literature on students.

Writing Fellows

Walking into the Writing Center in the Academic Success Center, it is impossible to overlook the buzz of activity. The sounds of paper rustling and group collaboration are nothing new for the Writing Fellows, a group of impressive undergraduates who help all members of the Clemson community become more confident and effective writers. The Writing Fellows assist undergraduate students, graduate students and even faculty members with all forms of expository writing. By working closely with undergraduates in various disciplines, the Writing Fellows have contributed to Clemson’s recent recognition by U.S. News & World Report as one of nineteen colleges that make the writing process a priority at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum.

Dr. Meredith McCarroll, director of the Writing Center, associate director of major fellowships and professor of American literature, realized that peer tutoring in writing involves more than one-on-one conferences; it involves studying the function and effectiveness of tutoring. McCarroll developed the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry, a subset of the Writing Fellows program, in which a handful of Writing Fellows immerse themselves in self-led research on different aspects of peer tutoring. The purpose of the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry is to help students conduct and continue this research as they prepare for the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPW).
The range of research conducted by the Creative Inquiry is exemplified by Caroline Mercer, a senior English literature major. Mercer sees the growing importance of technology and decided to conduct her research on the quality of online tutoring compared to sessions conducted in person.

“This next generation is really techy, so I think that online tutoring will only become more and more prominent over the years,” Mercer said.

Mercer’s fellow Creative Inquiry team member, sophomore industrial engineering major Shannon Kay, is also delving into research that will expand her knowledge of peer tutoring and enhance her own sessions. Kay’s research focuses on sequenced assignments, which refers to the relationships between given assignments. McCarroll believes that such student-driven research is one of the most powerful and memorable experiences that an undergraduate can have.

“It gives students a glimpse of what they can do beyond just one class,” McCarrol said. “Self-guided experiences help students feel autonomous and empowered.”

The semester-long research of Mercer, Kay, and the four other Creative Inquiry team members culminated with the National Confrence on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), held in Tampa, Florida in November 2013. At the conference, the students presented their research and had the opportunity to hear ideas from students from other universities. Both McCarroll and Mercer agree that this conference is the most exciting aspect of the Creative Inquiry, as it places Clemson into the growing discussion of peer tutoring and strengthens the university’s emphasis on writing across the curriculum. Returning from the conference, the Creative Inquiry team returned with new ideas and perspectives to share with the other Writing Fellows that they can then implement in their tutoring sessions.

Ultimately, McCarroll hopes that her students will walk away from the Creative Inquiry knowing that they can effectively communicate their ideas and use these ideas to impact their professional work.

“In a large or small way, they have something to contribute –they are going to enter their job and not only do great work, but also help to transform their field,” she said. Both McCarroll and her students believe that peer tutoring in writing is not about comma splices and superficial issues, but rather about content and delivery. It is these two aspects that drive the Creative Inquiry and push Clemson further into the academic discussion of writing across the curriculum.