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Strong Emphasis on Writing Pays Off for JSU English Students
- Opal Lovett
This article first appeared in the Jacksonville News in the Spring of 1996. It was reprinted in the Department of English Alumni Newsletter, Postcripts (July 1996), and is posted here in updated form.
Long known for its efforts to maintain high standards, JSU's English department is receiving state recognition. Dr. Clyde Cox, department head (now retired), and Dr. Robert Felgar, director of writing and current department head, are pleased with the teachers of writing classes and the results they see in the work of students. Felgar says, "We are pleased with the writing program. I just try to stay out of the way and let these teachers who are so skilled and effective do their work."
Students of Eugene Williams Win State Award Four Consecutive Years
Rose Ledbetter received honorable mention and a stipend for the 1997 Mary Evelyn McMillan Undergraduate Writing Award at the annual meeting of the Association of College English Teachers of Alabama held in Mobile, February 7-8, 1997.
Charles Kevin Driskill, a senior, received the 1996 Mary Evelyn McMillan Undergraduate Writing Award at the annual meeting of the Association of College English Teachers of Alabama held at Auburn University February 16-17. Driskill, a biology major and business and technical writing minor, who graduated in April, is the third consecutive winner from the JSU English department.
Michael Ballard, a double major in English and art, received the award in 1995 and is now working on an MA in English in graduate school at JSU. Jamie Fike, a double major in English and art, received the award in 1994. All three of these students were nominated by Eugene Williams, who taught them in Advanced Composition. Papers are judged by an impartial ACTE committee.
Computer-assisted Instruction in Composition Proves Effective
For several years a computer lab has been available to faculty members willing to teach composition on computers. Eugene Williams was the first to begin such computer-assisted instruction. Williams says, "It's most effective. Their ideas go directly from the mind to the computer. Their thinking appears in front of them in words. The computer separates them from being so personally involved. They revise better from typescript."
Gena Christopher says, "I look forward to the computer-assisted classes. The students enjoy it, too. They are less self-conscious. They are able to talk and help each other in a different way."
Deborah Prickett says, "I love it. The difference in the classroom atmosphere is remarkable. They are soon doing better writing and finding writing easier. We need more software and more sections, which limited funds now prohibit."
Randall Davis says, "Many students are already proficient at the keyboard. The computer lab and computer-assisted teaching are an asset to the program. Research papers and longer assignments are easier for students who work with computers. They are more likely to do better revisions because so much drudgery is eliminated."
Joanne Gates says, "I think it's the only way. I see my students engaged in more real writing. More sections are needed. We could benefit with more opportunities through the advanced technology available. Now that our students in Computer-Assisted writing sections work in a lab that is connected to the Internet, we could make use of connections from across the globe--be involved with peer reviews from other campuses. There is the potential for using the Internet for research and composition exercises."
National Writing Project Looking Forward to Eleventh Year
The eleventh five-week summer institute of the JSU National Writing Project is scheduled for July- August, 1998. Directed by Lisa Williams in cooperation with Gloria Horton, co-director, the institute is open to classroom teachers across all subject matter content from kindergarten through college. One of 165 affiliate sites, the purpose of NWP is to improve writing instruction in Alabama.
The teacher-participants study writing methods, write themselves and critique one another, and prepare and present lessons on writing.
Since 1988 when the first institute was held, over 175 teachers from northeast Alabama have benefited from this program.
A workshop series for area schools is an outgrowth of the NWP institute. Also incorporated into the NWP is an older English department program, Writing Instruction Technology, a one-day conference for teachers of English. WIT brings mostly secondary teachers together for a day of learning and sharing. This year's conference was March 13 at Stone Center.
Lisa Williams says, "The institute gives teacher-participants a heightened sense of their own value as teachers. They gain a much larger repertoire of approaches to use in teaching writing in their classrooms and see many opportunities for enriching their writing programs. They gain valuable insight about teaching during their five weeks together. They enjoy and learn from all the information that is available."
Camp Write--An Outgrowth of JSU-NWP
Gena Christopher has directed Camp Write, a program for area children from grades four through six. Over 225 children's lives have been changed through this program, an effort to extend and broaden the ideal of NWP.
"We run a lively program that includes opportunities to write plays, poetry, short stories and nonfiction," says Gena. "The children like the informality and the opportunity to coordinate crafts and art with their written work."
You have only to visit Camp Write for a few minutes to realize what a hectic, busy, inspirational, happy learning experience it is for kids and teachers.
English Competency Examination Checks Proficiency and Offers Chance to Polish Skills
The English Competency Examination, a basic skills writing test, is administered by the JSU English department to insure that anyone who graduates from this university has both attained and maintained writing skills necessary in the society at large.
The ECE has gained positive attention across the state as it is the only examination of its kind in Alabama's colleges. Requiring this examination follows the practice of many states, including Georgia.
Felgar says, "I have deep satisfaction that we do require it [ECE], and the department is proud of the results we get."
Gena Christopher, who has coordinated administration of the ECE, says "Our students report that completing the ECE gives them not just a feeling of accomplishment but of preparedness. They are confident that their writing skills are satisfactory when they have passed this examination. The ECE is a matter of pride for the English department and the students at JSU."
Special Course Emphasizes Writing and Oral Presentation
With so much emphasis on enrichment, the teaching of elementary age children, it is good to place more emphasis on the communication skills of those who will teach them. EH 348, Composition and Speech, is the course designed by Jelene Cuff to meet the needs of students planning to be teachers in Special Education, Early Childhood, and Elementary Education. The main objective is to provide these majors with the strong writing and speaking skills they will need to relay knowledge clearly and appropriately in written and oral forms. This course provides opportunities for the students to draw on their background development and use their knowledge and skills to communicate effectively with peers, students, administrators, parents and community leaders as they themselves become professionals. In short, the course allows students to present themselves and their ideas with clarity and confidence.
Creative Writing Program Gives Students Opportunities for Recognition
Susan Herport Methvin teaches creative writing classes year round--short story in the fall and poetry in the spring. Students from these classes appear as part of the English department lecture series, coordinated by Steven Whitton and Teresa Reed, and give public readings from their short stories in the fall and their poetry in the spring.
The Writers' Club publishes the campus literary magazine, Dress for Breakfast, in which work from the creative writing classes, Writers' Club members, Sigma Tau Delta submissions, and advanced compositions and advanced expository classes may appear.
Sigma Tau Delta--English Honorary Society Encourages Writing
Gloria Horton, sponsor of Sigma Tau Delta, says, "We have about 30 active members on campus now. We stress writing through an annual writing competition which is open to all JSU students. Cash prizes for first and second place in each category are awarded at the April meeting. Winners are submitted to Dress for Breakfast and to the Sigma Tau Delta national publication, The Rectangle.
Sigma Tau Delta, the English honorary society, is one of the oldest organizations on campus. The programs presented and the projects engaged in offer academic and intellectual stimulation.
Entire Department Sound and Energetic
The required composition, speech, and literature survey courses strengthen the entire student body and make for knowledgeable students, aware of the need to communicate well in both the oral and written language and to understand and be able to work well with fellow human beings, regardless of their specific professional goals. The advanced courses prepare students for becoming public school teachers, continuing in graduate school, going into public relations, finding jobs with publications, and on and on...
Cox says, "We think our department is strong because the teachers work to meet the needs of their students. We are pleased that our advanced classes in writing give our students the opportunity to develop and be recognized."