Writing across the Curriculum (WAC)

Writing Across the Curriculum, or WAC, is a teaching movement which developed in the 1970s and 1980s. It generally states that writing instruction should take place in all aspects of education and in all disciplines. The basic idea is that pupils can learn through writing, and that by developing professional writing skills they can also develop critical thinking about key concepts and principles in various fields of study.

Usually, WAC takes two main approaches. The first, Writing to Learn (WTL), stresses the importance of writing in the process of learning: students receive information on a topic in class and are asked to write their reaction to this information at home. When students write about various concepts, they often understand and retain them better because while writing they can reconsider and reformulate ideas and they can explore the matter in more detail. It can also help them comprehend complex concepts or ideas and apply them to their own experience or interest. WTL tasks are usually short and informal pieces, and editing and correction is not recommended as grammatical precision is not the focus of the assignment. In WLT, ideas are more important than form.

In time, students not only get used to express themselves in writing but also improve the quality of their writing skills — they expand on their vocabulary range, learn to construct paragraphs, develop better coherence and learn to present arguments.

The second approach is Writing in the Disciplines (WID). It acknowledges that each field of study has its own terminology, format and structure, and the style which is appropriate for one discipline is not suitable for another. WID supporters believe that in order to be competent in a given discipline, students need to be aware of its specific features and get used to practicing them. WID assignments are usually more complex and include reports, reviews and proposals. WID may be combined with WTL to produce maximum effect.

WAC started as a response to serious concern in the 1970s that university students in the United States had poor levels of literacy. At that time there was a boom in the number of higher education institutions and many of them had free admission. There were a number of college and university students whose high school marks would not let them continue to higher education in previous years. These students were less prepared academically to cope with the assignments and the subject matter. The work of Jerome Bruner (b. 1915), who had first used the word "scaffolding," in an educational sense, found favor at this time, because he was the first to direct the attention of educators and experts to the specifics of the structure of various disciplines. Others to advocate WAC included Mina Shaughnessy (1924-1978), a teacher at City University of New York, and Kenneth Bruffee, the emeritus professor of English at Brooklyn College, who also called for a revival of writing instruction.

A significant influence on the development of WAC was British education expert James Britton, who laid the foundations of what was called in Britain Language Across the Curriculum. At a seminar in Dartmouth in 1966, Britton had criticized the U.S. educational system for lacking flexibility and for sticking to rigid models of instruction and assessment. He suggested another model, based on a more informal classroom talk and discussions and concentrated on the importance of students' individual point of view and perception of the subject matter. Britton was among the authors of the UK Government-commissioned Bullock Report on literacy standards in schools (1975), and he also wrote Development of Writing Abilities (1975). Since reforms had already been considered in the United States, the British model was experimentally applied. WAC, funded by the government, was introduced in various educational institutions. In the 1980s, WAC was already effectively working in most higher education institutions and secondary schools in the country.

By the 21st century, WAC was the predominant method of teaching in schools, colleges and universities. However, it does not exist in isolation from all other pedagogical approaches but rather draws upon positive practices that can be useful. Probably the strongest argument in favor of this approach is the fact that it allows students to be familiar with the subject matter and its distinctive features, while at the same time preserving the students' individuality and enhancing their strengths.

Writing across the Curriculum (WAC): Selected full-text books and articles

Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History By David R. Russell Southern Illinois University Press, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Especially Chap. 9 "The Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement, 1970-1990" and Chap. 10 "The Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement, 1990-2000"
Preparing to Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice By James D. Williams Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: "Writing across the Curriculum" begins on p. 67
Teaching Writing in the Content Areas By Vicki Urquhart; Monette McLver Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005
On Location: Theory and Practice in Classroom-Based Writing Tutoring By Candace Spigelman; Laurie Grobman Utah State University Press, 2005
Librarian's tip: Especially Chap. 10 "Contextualizing Issues of Power and Promise: Classroom-Based Tutoring in Writing across the Curriculum"
Writing across the K12 Curriculum: Common Core Mandates for Success By Daddona, Patricia District Administration, Vol. 49, No. 2, February 2013
Writing across the Curriculum in a College of Business and Economics By Plutsky, Susan; Wilson, Barbara A Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 4, December 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Combining Chemistry and College Writing: A New Model for an Honors Undergraduate Chemistry Course By Chamely-Wiik, Donna; Galin, Jeffrey R.; Kasdorf, Krista; Haky, Jerome E Honors in Practice, Vol. 5, Annual 2009
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