By ELLA GREEN
UMW faculty and those in charge of the First Year Experience are piloting a new program this fall to assess and aid freshman writing. Select first-year seminars (FSEMs) are participating in this program, which is being referred to as the FSEM Writing Cohort.
“We would like to see what writing skills our first-year students come into UMW with and tailor our writing instruction to the areas of greatest need during the fall semester FSEM,” said Dr. April Wynn, faculty director of the First Year Experience and the director of the FSEM Writing Cohort program.
Through the use of a pre-test and post-test model, FSEM professors and those participating in the program will be able to conduct an initial assessment of writing areas that need improvement on a case-by-case basis. Participating FSEMs will be partnered with a student Writing Center consultant, who in turn will have tutoring hours reserved in the weeks leading up to a writing assignment for students in the FSEM.
“Each FSEM class will get a report on areas of writing that class could use more time devoted to and instructors will be made aware of those [areas] at about a third of the way through the semester,” said Wynn.
The Writing Cohort is designed to aid both freshman writing skills in the partnered FSEMs and participating FSEM faculty in their understanding of their students’ needs.
“[The goal is] a semester where FSEM instructors feel supported to teach writing, where students that are in FSEM sections that are part of the Cohort show gains in writing ability over the semester and where students in the Cohort sections have larger gains in writing than the average [student],” said Wynn.
The program will also provide data that can be used to improve the First Year Experience for future freshman classes.
“If effective, I would like to see the program grow [to include more sections] and to use the data on what writing skills our first-year students come to UMW with to better inform how we teach writing in the FSEM,” Wynn said.
Some freshmen have mixed feelings about the initiative.
“Everyone has their strong suits in writing,” said freshman Olivia Childers. “There are definitely areas of writing that everyone has that might require more help.”
Childers said she understood how resources like the Cohort and the Writing Center would be useful but was unsure if she would use them herself.
“I feel like I’m getting a lot of that from the professor,” she said.
Since the program is in its first year, development and evolution of the pilot relies on input from all those participating. Dr. Christine Henry of the historic preservation department teaches the FSEM “See the USA! The History of Roadtripping in American Culture,” and is participating in the FSEM Writing Cohort pilot this year.
“For me it is an exciting development, because it is a new program and as such is a bit experimental,” said Henry. “We are all working together to see what works and what does not as we shape the program together.”
According to Wynn, the combination of many campus resources working together is what makes the FSEM Writing Cohort program unique to the First Year Experience this year compared to previous years.
“I am most excited about the collaborative aspect of the new program – between the Writing Center, the FSEM instructors and the students,” Henry explained. “I think that this model will encourage more creative thinking and innovative approaches to improve student writing.”
Henry hopes that the system will encourage a more personal relationship to develop between the FSEM student and their paired tutor, which some students may find useful when trying to improve their writing.
“That tutor gets to know the students’ strengths and weaknesses and can be creative in finding ways to address those challenges,” said Henry. “With the Writing Center, students may not get the same tutor each time they use that resource; this way both the tutor and student will have the experience of seeing their writing evolve.”
Henry added, “Success for me would be [that] each student in my FSEM leaves the class feeling more confident in their writing and also they know what aspects and skills they need to focus on to improve their own writing in the future.”
The FSEM Writing Cohort pilot program aims to improve upon the First Year Experience and help freshmen students better adjust to the new academic challenges they will face in college.
“I hope that we will be able to cater the experience more directly to the students we have as opposed to designing a one size fits all approach,” Henry said.