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Freshmen Get One-on-One Attention
in New Writing Course
September 27, 1999

In previous semesters, English instructor Anita Hellstrom lamented the fact that the students who could have benefited most from personal attention were the ones who often failed to ask for it. This semester, as part of an effort to address that concern and improve students' writing, the English department has instituted a pilot program for freshman writing.

Under the program, the department is offering two four-credit composition courses that require students to meet individually with their instructors on a regular basis. Each class serves as a substitute for English 105 and 109, the three-credit composition courses that comprise a two-semester sequence required of all UConn students.

"This new approach ensures that everyone - from the best writer in the class to the less gifted students - gets attention," says Joanne Cordon, a doctoral student in English who teaches one of the new courses.

A total of about 300 students, chosen at random from the freshman class, are enrolled in seven sections of English 110, which focuses on composition skills, and seven sections of English 111, an introduction to writing about literature. All other freshmen who did not satisfy the freshman composition requirement with Advanced Placement credit or high school honors classes are enrolled in regular English 105 and 109 sections.

Making the new classes carry four credits allows instructors to spend an hour each week of individual time with students, concentrating on important skills such as grammar, writing and research.

The frequent one-on-one conferences that are the hallmark of the new courses enable the instructors, all of whom are graduate students in the English department, to discuss each student's work in depth. In the conferences, instructors are able to talk with students about their individual strengths and weaknesses, instead of simply writing comments on papers.

"It's nice that with the conferencing, you can sit down and have a conversation," says Hellstrom, a second-year master's student who teaches a section of English 111.

The students enrolled in English 110 and 111 already seem to be reaping the benefits of the individualized attention they're receiving.

"They seem to be really interested and appreciative of the extra attention," says Cordon, who is teaching English 111.

Carri Boiselle, a first-semester student in English 110, is happy to be in a class where she's receiving one-on-one attention from her instructor. "It's more personal, so she knows what we personally need to add to make our writing style better," Boiselle says.

Tom Recchio, director of freshman English, says the pilot program does not require an increase in resources but does allow the freshman writing program to operate more responsibly. The program is part of a larger effort to strengthen the freshman experience, he says.

"If we're going to make the case that writing is essential for success here, this is a way to dramatize it," Recchio says.

The students who are enrolled in the pilot program must also take a one-credit enhanced writing class attached to introductory courses in history, biology and psychology to complete the freshman writing requirement. The writing of students in the pilot program and several sections of English 105 and 109 will be evaluated at the end of the school year.

Allison Thompson