Writing across the curriculum

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Writing across the curriculum (WAC) is a movement within contemporary composition studies that concerns itself with writing in classes outside of composition, literature, and other English courses. According to a comprehensive survey performed in 2006–2007, approximately half of American institutes of higher learning have something that can be identified as a WAC program.[1]

This page principally concerns itself with WAC in American colleges and universities. WAC has also been important in Britain, but primarily at the K–12 level.

History of WAC[edit]

David Russell traces the history of WAC in the United States to the 1870s, the emergence of professional disciplines, and the new need for college-level instruction in writing.[2] Prior to this era, college students were exclusively (for all practical considerations) affluent white men whose natural discourse was identical to the approved discourse of the academy; therefore, their way of speaking and writing was already considered appropriate by and for the academy and composition didn't need to be taught at the college level. Two changes happened to motivate the need for college writing instruction. Firstly, as disciplines (as divisions within academic studies) and contemporary professions specialized, they developed their own specialized discourses. Because these discourses were not merely the same as the everyday discourse of the upper classes, they had to be taught. Secondly, as college students became more diverse – first in terms of social background and, later, in terms of gender, race, and age – not all college students grew up speaking the accepted language of the academy.

Clearly, composition courses couldn't be about the content of the writing, because content was what the other disciplines taught. Composition, therefore, had to be about the form the writing took and so "writing" was reduced to mechanics and style. Because of this reduced focus and because writing was addressed by composition, other disciplines assumed no responsibility for writing instruction; most students, then, were not taught to write in the context of their specialties. As American education became increasingly skills-oriented following World War II – in part a reaction to the suffusion of universities with war veterans in need of job training, in part a result of modeling education after the efficiency of Fordian factory production – writing instruction was further reduced to a set of skills to be mastered. Once correct (that is, standard academic) grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style were mastered – preferably before reaching the post-secondary level – there was no need for additional writing instruction save as remedial education.

This product-oriented, skills-focused paradigm of writing pedagogy began to change in the 1970s with the popularization of James Britton and colleagues' expressivist school of composition, which said that students benefited from writing as a tool for self-expression and that focusing on technical correctness was damaging. Janet Emig's 1977 article "Writing as a Mode of Learning," grounded in constructivist theories of education, suggested that writing functioned as a unique and invaluable way for students to understand and integrate information. Simultaneously, widespread media attention around college students' apparently decreasing writing proficiency (more a product of the changing demographics of college students than an overt shift in teaching) provoked institutions of higher learning to reevaluate and increase the amount of writing required of students. Carleton College and Beaver College began what were probably the first contemporary WAC programs in 1974 and 1975, respectively, with faculty workshops and writing requirements shared across disciplines.[2]

In 2010, Thaiss and Porter defined WAC as "a program or initiative used to 'assist teachers across disciplines in using student writing as an instructional tool in their teaching'".[3] WAC, then, emerged as and remains a way to bring writing back to disciplines which had become accustomed to assigning relatively little of it. WAC has also been part of the student-centered pedagogies movement (student-centred learning) seeking to replace teaching via one-way transmission of knowledge from teacher to student with more interactive strategies that enable students to interact with and participate in creating knowledge in the classroom.

Major theories[edit]

WAC efforts are usually driven principally by one of two theories: writing to learn or on learning to write in disciplinary discourses, sometimes also called writing in the disciplines. Though both may be used together, one of the two theories generally guides any given writing assignment and, often, any given WAC course.

Writing to learn[edit]

Writing to learn is also occasionally referred to as the expressivist or cognitive mode of WAC.[4] Writing to learn supports the use of mostly informal, often ungraded writing exercises to help students understand course content in non-English disciplines. Writing to learn assumes that being able to explain or express concepts in one's own words both builds and reflects understanding. Because the goal of writing to learn exercises is learning rather than a finished writing product, instructors are discouraged from paying attention to grammar and surface mechanics. The student himself or herself, not the teacher, is the audience. Common writing to learn exercises include reading responses, journals, free writing, and multiple forms of collaborative writing.

Writing in the disciplines[edit]

Writing in the disciplines is also occasionally referred to as the transactional or rhetorical mode of WAC.[5] Writing in the Disciplines (WID) teaches students how to write acceptably in their respective disciplines.[6] Writing in the Disciplines classes teach students to learn to write texts that they will apply in their scholarly and professional lives.[7] Although WID and WAC are correlated, WID emphasizes disciplinary orientation. The students’ participation in their majors enlists the students in discourse communities, which are social groups that communicate, at least in part, via written texts and share common goals, values, and writing standards. These writing standards include but are not limited to specialized vocabularies and particular genres.[8] The goal of WID is to allow students to demonstrate writing skills within the genres expected in academic and professional discourse communities.[9]

Writing in the discipline courses are commonly referred to as Writing Intensive courses(WI).[10] Writing Intensive courses were developed for two reasons: 1) Students' writing skills would decrease if not consistently reinforced. 2) Students' writing improves significantly when they write involving their major.[10] The controversy surrounding WID is who holds responsibility for teaching WID courses. The different models for teaching WID classes are the following: 1) The English department faculty teaches writing courses focused on individual disciplines. 2) English departments and other discipline departments collaborate on instructing writing courses for particular majors.[10] 3) Individual faculty of respective disciplines teach writing for their respective disciplines.[11] Scholars agree that each university decides which model works best for their institution. The University of San Francisco has implemented model one to teach their Writing in Psychology course(RHET 203).[10] Cornell University has used model two to teach their Technical Writing course(WRIT 7100).[10] The University of Missouri employs the third model to teach their Process Synthesis and Design course - Writing Intensive(CH_ENG 4980W)[11].

WAC structure and implementation[edit]

WAC may exist as a formal program housed in or attached to an English department, a formal program as a free-standing unit reporting directly to a dean or vice president, a program attached to an all-campus writing center, or an informal initiative in which faculty voluntarily participate. The WAC director, at most universities, is a tenure-track professor.[12] WAC programs are often administered by a WAC director, frequently with the aid of a WAC faculty committee, and are sometimes staffed by undergraduate or graduate student assistants (also referred to as tutors, consultants, or fellows.)

WAC workshops[edit]

Workshops at which faculty from many disciplines meet to share ideas about and strategies around writing are a primary way in which WAC is enacted.[13][14]

Workshops serve multiple functions including:

  • Encouraging community amongst faculty interested in WAC[15]
  • Allowing WAC faculty (often, but not always from English or composition studies) to share knowledge about writing to learn, writing process, providing student feedback, and other composition scholarship
  • Providing a forum for open discussion about writing and teaching
  • Giving faculty themselves an opportunity to experiment with different writing strategies including collaborative writing and peer-review and to experience something of how these strategies may feel for their students[16]

A major complaint against the workshop model of WAC is that it can encourage the mindset that writing pedagogy is relatively simple and can be mastered in a few days, whereas using writing effectively (in English or non-English classes) is widely recognized as taking years of practice.[17]

WAC in upper-division courses[edit]

On a programmatic level, WAC most often manifests as some kind of writing-intensive (also called writing-enriched or writing-in-the-major) courses. Courses carrying this designation typically meet university-wide criteria including a minimum number of pages or words students write over the semester (or some other measure of writing frequency), opportunity for revision, and deriving a significant portion of the final grade from writing. Writing-intensive courses also often have relatively small enrollment limits (15–35 students depending on institution) and may require faculty to participate in WAC-related professional development activities.[18]

The rationale for writing-intensive coursework includes:

  • Writing practice – as with any other skill, students' writing abilities will atrophy if they are left unpracticed; writing-intensive courses ensure that students continue to write after leaving first-year composition
  • Writing to learn – contemporary composition theory holds that incorporating active writing promotes student engagement and, therefore, learning
  • Professionalization – writing-intensive courses directed at upper-division major students provide an opportunity for students to learn the communication skills expected of professionals in their anticipated fields

WAC in first-year composition[edit]

While WAC is usually understood as distributing writing across the curriculum in courses outside of English departments, a WAC philosophy can also influence the structure of first-year composition courses. Because first-year composition is often the only writing course students take, the composition of the class can shape students' understanding of what writing is.[19] Incorporating writing from diverse academic genres can therefore expand students' expectations about what constitutes "writing." WAC in first-year composition owes much to genre theory (genre studies) which asks students to think about the classification and rhetorical implications of writing within socially constructed genres.

Writing-Enhanced Curriculum[edit]

Writing-Enhanced Curriculum (also known as Writing-Enriched Curriculum or WEC) is a movement that scholars have recently started to implement in composition programs across the U.S. With its basic premise reflecting WAC's integration of writing throughout all student's courses, WEC aims to focus on faculty involvement in devising a writing program that is effective and relevant for students in their various fields [20].

Origins of WEC[edit]

In the late 1990's, North Carolina State University developed an approach to writing across the curriculum that involved extensive consultation by writing experts with individual departments. These consultations began with a focus on the qualities and characteristics faculty felt that student majors would exhibit if they were strong communicators. Those discussions led to the articulation of learning outcomes for both writing and oral communication. The departments then developed implementation plans that could help them reach the outcomes, followed or preceded by plans for assessing student abilities in order to further refine or project plans for implementation. [21] [22] The Campus Writing and Speaking Program, directed since 1999 by Distinguished Professor Chris Anson (www.ansonica.net), provided much of the support for this campus-wide approach. A few years into the program's existence, Anson and colleague Michael Carter (who is often credited with originating the departmentally-focused approach on which WEC is founded) consulted with Pamela Flash at the University of Minnesota (where Anson had been a professor for 15 years) to help them spearhead a similar effort. Minnesota branded their effort "WEC," although now the acronym is becoming generalized as other institutions adopt the approach.

WEC is a developing concept relating to WAC; the acronym was popularized by Pamela Flash and her colleagues at The University of Minnesota. Flash is the university's director of Writing Across the Curriculum, founding director of the Writing-Enriched Curriculum and co-director of the writing center. [23] [24] As a pioneer of the WEC writing instruction model, the University of Minnesota has had its faculty enroll up to 5 units of WEC plans per year into the undergraduate curriculum for up to 10 years.[25]

The WEC model[edit]

According to the University of Minnesota, WEC is an instructor motivated method to ensuring effective writing across the curriculum. The WEC model created and implemented by the University of Minnesota involves a three-step plan to maximize the rate and accuracy of writing across the curriculum. The first is forming an effective plan. The outlining of plans is attempted through collaborative discussions between numerous departmental faculty and specialists in both writing and assessment and the consideration of previous attempts at effective writing instruction. Some of the content under consideration include writing assessments, locally collected data, stakeholder surveys and writing expectations from instructors. The outcome of this meetings is pronounced expectations and plans for relevant instructions to be implemented in the curricula. The next step is the application of the plan into the undergraduate curriculum and assessing Undergraduate Writing Plans (Molly B). Integrating the WEC model is anticipated to show improvements in writing instruction at a rate that would meet faculty expectations. The permitted writing plans are tested for 1-3 academic years through multiple outlets; writing workshops, seminars, additional research. The effectiveness of the writing plans on student writing is then finally assessed by a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate; the Campus Writing Board. The writing plan assessment is done through results from student writing assessments, panel ratings of students writing against faculty expectations and criteria, the results are then used to guide future writing plans. [26]

The principles of WAC and the WEC model[edit]

Because WEC closely reflects WAC, the principles that Barbara Walvoord[27] gives to devise a WAC program are similar to Anson's Campus Writing and Speaking Program at NC State and Pamela Flash's WEC model[28] at the University of Minnesota. James K. Elmborg's work on information literacy and WAC[29] summarizes Walvoord's characteristics of creating a WAC program as:

  • Including colleagues from various disciplines, including teaching assistants and students, as they will all be affected by the WAC program the most.
  • Discussing what needs and concerns need to be met with a WAC program and who will be willing to dedicate time to implementing the curriculum.
  • What changes will be made to address this-- whether it be in school-wide assessments, writing centers or classroom methods
  • School administrators will then oversee and facilitate WAC but should not be seen as dictators.

Similarly, both Anson's approach at NC State and Pamela Flash's model at the University of Minnesota reflect the same idea of coming together with faculty members from various fields throughout the curriculum and implementing these changes cohesively[30]. The main point of difference between WAC and WEC, however, is that WEC requires faculty to maintain ongoing assessment of how the program is affecting their students and to make changes, if necessary[31]. In comparison, WAC does not require routinely assessment as part of its model like WEC. Like WAC, the WEC model also requires ongoing efforts to be sustainable; Anson's program at NC State revisits departments to conduct "profiles" of their efforts, resulting in a formative report for the department's use[32]

Criticisms[edit]

P.A. Ramsay, in his paper Writing across the curriculum: Integrating discourse communities in the academy, found that students that participate in WAC programs become better communicators in their chosen discipline and demonstrated improved critical/analytical thinking.[33]

Disadvantages of WAC include fears that the teaching style will reduce the available time to teach content material, difficuties getting teachers "on board" with the style, as well as fears that the teacher is illequipped to teach writing.Ramsay also found while working in Jamaica, that students who were unable to compose in their first language (either because of academic defficiencies or because the language did not have a written language) had difficulties composing in their second language using WAC practices.[33] This was a sentiment echoed by Alexander Friedlander, who in his research found that students unable to write in their first language will have great difficulty writing in their second language regardless of whether their instruction has used WAC strategies.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thaiss, Chris, and Tara Porter. "The State of WAC/WID in 2010: Methods and Results of the U.S. Survey of the International WAC/WID Mapping Project." College Composition and Communication. 61.3 (2010): 524–70. Web.
  2. ^ a b Russell, David R. Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History. 2nd Ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.
  3. ^ Thaiss, Chris, and Tara Porter. "The State of WAC/WID in 2010: Methods and Results of the U.S. Survey of the International WAC/WID Mapping Project." College Composition and Communication. 61.3 (2010): 524–70. Web.
  4. ^ McLeod, Susan H. "Writing Across the Curriculum: An Introduction." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 1–11. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  5. ^ McLeod, Susan H. "Writing Across the Curriculum: An Introduction." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 1–11. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  6. ^ Brian Sutton. "Writing in the Disciplines, First-Year Composition, and the Research Paper." Language and Learning Across the Disciplines. (1997): 46-57. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/llad/v2n1/sutton.pdf
  7. ^ McLeod, Susan H. "Writing Across the Curriculum: An Introduction." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 1–11. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  8. ^ Academic Writing Program. "What is "Writing in the Disciplines?"" Faculty of Art and Science, Academic Writing Program. University of Lethbridge, 2006.
  9. ^ Charles Bazerman. "Encyclopedia of English Studies "Writing in the Disciplines". Southern Illinios UP, 1993.
  10. ^ a b c d e McLeod, Susan H.; Soven, Margot (2000). "Chapter 6: Writing-Intensive Courses: Tools for Curricular Change". Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. WAC Clearinghouse Landmark Publications in Writing Studies. 
  11. ^ a b Jonathan, Monroe, (2003-10-01). "Writing and the Disciplines". Peer Review. 6 (1). ISSN 1541-1389. 
  12. ^ Thaiss, Chris, and Tara Porter. "The State of WAC/WID in 2010: Methods and Results of the U.S. Survey of the International WAC/WID Mapping Project." College Composition and Communication. 61.3 (2010): 524–70. Web.
  13. ^ Walvoord, Barbara E. "Getting Started." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 12–31. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  14. ^ Thaiss, Chris, and Tara Porter. "The State of WAC/WID in 2010: Methods and Results of the U.S. Survey of the International WAC/WID Mapping Project." College Composition and Communication. 61.3 (2010): 524–70. Web.
  15. ^ Magnotto, Joyce Neff and Barbara R. Stout. "Faculty Workshops." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 32–46. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  16. ^ Sandler, Karen Wiley. "Starting a WAC Program: Strategies for Administrators." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 47–57. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  17. ^ Ochsner, Robert, and Judy Fowler. "Playing Devil's Advocate: Evaluating the Literature of the WAC/WID Movement." Review of Educational Research 74.2 (2004): 117 -140. Web. 1 Sept. 2011.
  18. ^ Farris, Christine and Raymond Smith. "Writing-Intensive Courses: Tools for Curricular Change." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 71–86. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  19. ^ Peterson, Linda H. "Writing Across the Curriculum and/in the Freshman English Program." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992. 58–70.Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/landmarks/mcleod-soven/
  20. ^ "Writing-Enriched Curriculum". University of Minnesota. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  21. ^ Carter, Michael (2003) A Process for Establishing Outcomes-Based Assessment Plans for Writing and Speaking in the Disciplines, Language and Learning Across the Disciplines, 6:1, 4-29. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/llad/v6n1/carter.pdf
  22. ^ Anson, Chris M. (2006) Assessing Writing in Cross-Curricular Programs: Determining the Locus of Activity. Assessing Writing, 11, 100-112.
  23. ^ Heidi E. Wagner, A. Peter Hilger & Pamela Flash (2014) Improving Writing Skills of Construction Management Undergraduates: Developing Tools for Empirical Analysis of Writing to Create Writing-Enriched Construction Management Curriculum,International Journal of Construction Education and Research, 10:2, 111-125, DOI: 10.1080/15578771.2013.852146
  24. ^ "Search Results", American Library Association, January 18, 2018. http://www.ala.org/search-results?as_q=%22writing%20enhanced%20curriculum%22 (Accessed April 20, 2018) Document ID: 019c5924-9dc0-4eaa-929a-9aeff57bd454
  25. ^ hinte019 (2016-10-06). "About". WEC. Retrieved 2018-04-20. 
  26. ^ mollyb (2017-03-27). "WEC Model". WEC. Retrieved 2018-04-20. 
  27. ^ Walvoord, Barbara. Getting Started. In Writing‐across‐the‐Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. pp. 9–22. 
  28. ^ "Writing-Enriched Curriculum Model". University of Minnesota. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  29. ^ Elmborg, James. "Information literacy and Writing across the Curriculum: sharing the vision". Reference Services Review. 31 (1): 68-80. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  30. ^ "Writing Plans". University of Minnesota. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  31. ^ "Research & Assessment". University of Minnesota. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  32. ^ Anson, Chris M., & Dannels, D. P. (2009). Profiling Programs: Formative Uses of Assisted Descriptions in the Assessment of Communication Across the Curriculum. Across the Disciplines, 6 Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/atd/assessment/anson_dannels.pdf
  33. ^ a b Ramsay, P.A. (2008). Writing across the curriculum: Integrating discourse communities in the academy. Kingston, Jamaica: School of Education, University of West Indies.
  34. ^ Friedlander, A. (1990). Composing in English: Effects of a first language on writing in English as a second language. In B.Kroll(Ed.), Second language writing: Research insights for the classroom (pp. 109-125). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

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