Changes to the English curriculum enrich student experience
Members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, pose with George Diamond, retiring faculty advisor, and Nicole Tabor (far left) incoming advisor.
Photo by Michael P. Wilson
In the last few years, the English department has implemented major changes to its curriculum that focus on teaching students practical skills they will be able to employ in any future endeavors.
The department had previously been divided into three tracks: language and literature, writing,and drama and theatre. The department’s changes have eliminated the tracks in order to unify the major and increase students’ flexibility in course selection. The changes have emphasized the learning of practical and widely applicable analytical and communication skills. English majors are now required to complete two writing intensive courses, three literature courses, a hands-on learning assignment (HLA), a senior seminar and electives.
“Most of us [the English faculty] feel passionately about the literary backgrounds we come from, but we want to emphasize the skills common to all of the courses,” says Theresa Dougal, associate professor and chair of the department during the transition. “A good mix of classes helps to produce students who are good at thinking analytically and writing well.”
The analytical and writing skills learned in the major will continue to be useful for students in their careers and in any future educational pursuits. Meghan McLaughlin ’13, who will be attending law school in London next school year, says, “As a lawyer, you have to be concise with what you write. You have to write well, know what you have to say, and know how to say it. I feel that’s been taught very well at Moravian.”
The English department made the decision to change the major out of a desire to produce more well-rounded students. One of the problems identified with the track system was that literature and writing students would rarely elect to take classes outside of their tracks.
The new major requires classes in both literature and writing, but also provides enough flexibility to allow majors to take the same courses they would have taken in the tracks. In addition, both literature and writing courses always feature a combination of critical reading, writing, class discussion and oral presentations that force students to think on their feet, practice a variety of critical thinking skills and develop stronger communication skills.
“The major has definitely helped with critical thinking and being able to analyze a situation and respond whether in reading or life,” says Samantha Anderson ’13. “Writing skills always help. This has made me well-rounded, allowing me to talk about a wide variety of issues and sound educated.”
In addition to learning practical skills, English majors get practical experience through the hands-on learning requirement. To complete the HLA, students work with either the College’s newspaper The Comenian, the public relations department, the Theatre Company, or the Center for Leadership and Service. The HLA gives students experience writing a supervised piece for a client, allows them to write outside of an academic setting and gives them a published writing sample to include when applying for a job or for graduate school.
Veronica Range ’13 wrote her HLA for The Comenian. Her story, an interview with the College’s incoming president Bryon Grigsby ’90 was the front page story of the February 2013 issue of the newspaper. Range has since become a regular writer for The Comenian, amassing additional clips and gaining experience. She will serve as the newspaper’s copy editor in the coming academic year. Range says one of the most important skills she has learned since beginning with The Comenian is, “to be willing to reach out to people and communicate with them. It can be nerve-racking, but it is a useful skill to have.”
Anderson, who wrote her HLA for the Theatre Company, has since had other work published in a professional journal. She says the HLA, which was her first published work, “was exciting and scary at the same time. I was afraid of having my work read, but it was thrilling to see my name in print. It made it easier to send things out. The first one is always the hardest.” She also recognizes the advantage it will give her as she applies for jobs. “The world now is such a hard place to get a job. Being able to have something published, that people have decided is good enough for the public eye, helps.”
The other major change within the department is the creation of a capstone seminar for seniors. The seminar allows students to reinforce the skills they have learned throughout their major and reflect on the journey they have undergone in their course work. Students also leave the seminar with a completed portfolio of the strongest work they have done in the major, which they can show to potential employers or graduate schools.
In the future, the English department intends to continue its emphasis on balanced and practical skill-building in the major and to promote student internships.