Writing program set for trial run

Administrators are putting the finishing touches on a new writing course that a third of next year’s freshman class will be required to take instead of English 10 and 11. The classes will meet three to four times a week and will focus on developing writing skills necessary for University students, officials said.

Incoming freshmen from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Elliott School of International Affairs will be randomly selected and placed in the course, said Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman, who headed the writing program task force.

“This all fits into the theme of academic excellence here at GW,” Lehman said. “As the University becomes more and more selective, we’re evolving the academic culture along with the highly qualified students (coming to GW).”

Lehman said $350,000 has been allocated to the program’s budget for next year, in addition to the funds redirected from the eliminated English 10 and 11 classes. He said the University will allocate an additional $1 million to the program by 2005.

The four-credit course, University Writing 20, is part of a new program designed to enhance students’ writing skills. The freshman course is “theme-based,” like English 10 and 11, but focuses more on writing papers about the course topics than reading literature. As upperclassmen, students will also be required to take additional writing courses, possibly focused on their majors.

The need for a writing-intensive course stemmed from concerns raised about students’ writing skills by deans and other administrators, said assistant vice president for academic affairs Craig Linebaugh.

“It’s a concern that’s been around for a long time. It’s also a national concern,” said Linebaugh, noting that several universities have implemented writing programs, including Duke University and the University of Missouri.

The course will take four to five years to finalize, Lehman said. Linebaugh said the writing course would be mandatory for all incoming freshmen starting in 2005. It will not affect current students.

Linebaugh said the freshman writing courses will be divided into beginner and advanced sections. Students will be placed based on their verbal SAT scores, but placement scores for each class has not yet been determined.

The beginner course, which will meet four times a week, will focus on developing basic writing skills while the advanced class, meeting three times a week, will focus on more complex writing.

Each course will have a minimum of three writing assignments a semester, including pre-drafts, drafts and revisions.

Beginner classes would have a maximum of 12 students and advanced classes would be capped at 15 students, Lehman said. He added that there would be 15 sections of both classes each semester.

“The writing program will really engage students, helping them to organize their thoughts better,” Columbian College Dean William Frawley said. “It will help them to become better critical thinkers.”

Students are currently exempt from taking English 10 if they score a four on an Advanced Placement English test and are exempt from English 11 if they score a five.

However, while all freshmen will be required to take the writing course, but they can opt out of another course, like a humanities requirement, with a high AP score, Lehman said.

Professor Cheryl Beil, another member of the writing program task force, said professors have not been chosen for the new classes, but several have been approached.

Lehman said he doesn’t expect to add any new professors, and professors for the courses will be chosen from the existing faculty.

He also said the writing program will be headed by an acting director hired from within the University, adding that a national search for a permanent director would be conducted next year.

Frawley said he doesn’t know which English 10 and 11 classes will be eliminated, but the English department will make a decision in the upcoming months.

At Duke University, all first-year students are required to take a writing course, which focuses on intellectual and creative writing, said Van Hillard, director of the first-year writing program. He said the program, which is taught by a staff of 25 full-time professors and several doctoral candidates, has been in place for 25 years.

“The general spirit of the course is to take up the issues that have been of interest to scholars and to give students practice in sophisticated analysis,” Hillard said.

-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.