SEWS (Sequenced Enhancement of Writing Skills)
One major goal of Lincoln Memorial University’s General Studies program is to graduate baccalaureate degree students who can communicate clearly and effectively. To this end, LMU’s General Studies program lists competency in critical reading, composition, and oral communication skills among its primary curriculum objectives.
A study of writing skills conducted by the ETS at Princeton and Williams Universities and Dartmouth College in the early 1980’s concluded that students who were not English majors demonstrated their greatest mastery over a range of writing skills* mid-way through their sophomore year; that is, at the end of the generally required English sequence. From that point, student writing skills dwindled, often to college entry levels, by the students’ senior years.
The Princeton study indicated that writing skills seem to atrophy from disuse just as muscles do, and suggested that colleges and universities find ways to help students keep their writing skills in shape for the job market, graduate school, or professional training.
Since virtually all college programs or major fields use writing of some sort (lab reports, business letters, patient charting, etc.), the real goal was to get students to take these tasks as seriously as they do a formal research paper in English 210.
As an articulation of our conviction that competent writing is an important end-product of a liberal-arts education, it was decided that LMU needed a way to say to our students that we continue to expect acceptable writing from them once they leave the English department behind, along with a way to make that expectation visible, enforceable, and practicable.
The SEWS Program
LMU’s SEWS program is specifically designed to use the existing curriculum at LMU to exercise students’ writing skills and establishes a baseline writing requirement for each year of the traditional four-year degree:
FIRST YEAR: the SEWS requirement is satisfied by successful completion of English 210, the second class in the Freshman Composition sequence offered at LMU. Instructors submit electronic copies of all passing research papers to the chair of the English department who then loads them onto a disk which is forwarded to the SEWS
SECOND YEAR: the SEWS requirement is satisfied by one resource-based paper written
in English 310 (the required GEN ED literature course) that demonstrates information-literacy skills and is deemed satisfactory by the English 310 instructor. An electronic copy of each passing paper is sent by each instructor to the chair of the English department who then loads them onto a disk which is forwarded to the SEWS director.
THIRD YEAR: the SEWS requirement is satisfied by one source-based report or analysis of around 1000 words written in the student’s major program and deemed information literate and satisfactory by the instructor of a 300-level course designated with the ‘X’-suffix. An electronic copy of each passing paper is maintained by the department chair for outcomes purposes. A disk copy is then forwarded by the chair to the SEWS Director.
FOURTH YEAR: the SEWS requirement is satisfied by meeting departmentally-set criteria in a 400-level course with a “Z” suffix in the student’s major program. The SEWS Director strongly recommends that departmental chairs consider having their faculty assign resource-based SEWS assignments that require the student to demonstrate information literacy and analytical writing skills. An electronic copy of each passing paper is submitted to the department chair by each SEWS instructor for departmental outcomes use. In addition, a disk copy is forwarded to the SEWS Director maintained by the department chair.
Role of the Academic Support Center in SEWS
In order to facilitate the revision of unacceptable essays, a computer tutorial in basic writing skills has been established at the Tagge Center (the All Write Computer Tutorial). It is available to any student at any point in their academic career who is judged by his or her professor to need practice in basic writing skills in order to write a passing SEWS paper. In addition, student writing tutors (English majors or students who have otherwise demonstrated strong writing skills) are available to perform effective and ethical peer tutoring.
* These skills include assignment analysis, topic narrowing, discovery and utilization of sources (i.e., using the library and online sources and taking notes on readings), organization of materials, use of theses and topic sentences, composition of introductions and conclusions, mastery of a fluid style, and control over mechanics and usage.