Writing Across the Curriculum

The Writing Across the Curriculum movement (WAC) is a subfield of writing studies and composition studies that asserts students acquire proficiency in writing through instruction and practice in a variety of courses and fields. The writing-to-learn approach to WAC also suggests that through writing students can learn to retain and think critically about key principles and concepts in the disciplines. As Chris Anson states, “writing belongs in all courses in every discipline” (ix). It is closely affiliated with the Writing in the Disciplines movement (WID) and the fields are sometimes referred to by use of the acronym WID/WAC.

Foundations of WAC/WID
Scholarship and research in Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines have tended to embrace the following principles:

    Learning to write in a discipline is intricately imbricated with learning to think within a discipline’s critical traditions.

    Student – writers must enter into — -some say be “initiated” into — -communities of experts who use specific “expert-insider prose” (MacDonald 187).

    Learning to write effectively within a discipline is a long-term process; some students may not advance to a comfortable “expertness” in their writing by the time they are ready to graduate from their undergraduate programs.

    Writing increases student engagement with course materials and content, and increases retention of information and depth of understanding.

    Not all writing within a class need be “high stakes” demonstrations of the elements of disciplinary-specific discourses, approaches, or styles for writing to be an effective learning tool. Writing can in fact serve multiple purposes within a course, for instance taking the form of “low stakes” practice or “writing to learn” exercises qua “puzzles” that are structured to encourage students to explore materials and develop as thinkers by working through disciplinary-specific lines of inquiry, engage materials actively, and reflect upon what they have learned.

    Writing-instruction is most effective when it is integrated into courses and curricula — that is when instructors see writing as a unique tool closely related to the learning objectives of coursework and a major.

    Integrating writing-instruction into areas of disciplinary-instruction requires faculty to reflect upon — sometimes for the first time — what constitutes “good writing” in their fields and how the writing they ask their students to produce reflects particular understandings of course content, disciplinary ways of doing and knowing, and other learning objectives. Further, students benefit greatly when faculty to think through their criteria for “good” writing and work towards making those criteria more explicit for students, including how experts as writers use language, deploy evidence, pursue lines of inquiry, structure academic arguments, and demonstrate their authority to other readers in their fields.

    Student-writers benefit from a sequenced, developmental curriculum that continues writing-instruction beyond the first year composition and general education courses into discipline-specific courses. Departments need to be proactive in building vertical, unified, and developmental curricula that attend to writing in the majors. This means identifying in which courses and at what stages of a major (or course of study) that their students are learning specific skill sets and supporting a student’s writing development with specific and targeted coursework in writing throughout their undergraduate major.

    Students are better able to perform in high stakes assignments when the complex sets of skills and sub-skills required by an assignment are broken down and supported by a “scaffolding” approach to the assignment, “writing their way into” the discourses of the discipline. Likewise, students benefit from the opportunity to revise in accordance with faculty feedback and to reflect upon what they are learning, what it means to write in a discipline, and how they have progressed as writers.

    Rethinking entry-level courses to focus upon “threshold concepts” provides exactly this sort of scaffolding of writing assignments and links well with goals to introduce students to writing in their majors.