Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) as a field of study and as institutional programming is all about the role that writing plays in student learning, engagement, action, and involvement across academic and professional spheres.
Research in writing development tells us:
- This development happens in fits and starts, with unevenness and phases of regression (Beaufort, 2007; Gere et al. 2019; Haswell, 1991; Lancaster, 2016; McCarthy, 1987; Sommers and Saltz, 2004)
- Students’ writing confidence is can be uneven, with periods of slumps and gains (Lunsford et al., 2013)
- Errors can increase as rhetorical & cognitive demands increase and as students take rhetorical risks (Haswell, 1991)
Obstacles to writing development include:
- Disconnected, “siloed off” writing assignments (Beaufort, 2o07; Anderson et al., 2015)
- Unclear opportunities for transfer (Carroll, 2002; Nowacek, 2011)
- Lack of opportunities to reflect and talk about writing (Carroll, 2002; Nowacek, 2011; Rounsaville, 2008)
- Erratic, unpredictable feedback (Lunsford, 2005; Thaiss & Zawacki, 2006)
Based on this research, WAC practices center on four shared principles (read more in the Statement of WAC Principles & Practices):
1. Writing as rhetorical
Texts are dynamic and respond to the goals of the writer(s), goals of the reader(s), and the wider rhetorical context, which may include culture, language, genre conventions, and other texts. In order to write effectively, students need to think rhetorically, understanding that all aspects of writing — from voice, to organization, to stylistic conventions — are affected by the rhetorical situation. Practices that assist students in developing rhetorical thinking include: genre analysis (comparative analysis of multiple examples of a type of text), rhetorical analysis of a text (examining arguments in disciplinary texts to learn the rhetorical patterns of argument in a given discipline), and peer review.
2. Writing as a process
For high-stakes writing (writing that will be graded), the writing process is long and complex, with the writer revising in response to developing ideas, reader feedback, and a deeper understanding of the rhetorical situation. Scaffolding students’ writing processes often leads to student writing that displays an increase in the depth of thought, awareness of audience, and attention to style and editing. Practices that assist students in developing an effective writing process include: class discussion of writing as a process, peer review of early drafts, teacher feedback to early (ungraded) drafts, and the assignment of reflective cover letters turned in with final drafts that detail the writer’s process.
3. Writing as a mode of learning
Writing has long been recognized as enhancing the learning process. Writing makes thinking visible, allowing learners to reflect on their ideas. Further, writing facilitates connections between new information and learned information, and among areas of knowledge across multiple domains. In practice, writing-to-learn (WTL) activities are informal, ungraded, and designed to focus on a particular learning outcome. WTL activities include double-entry (or dialectic) journals, freewriting, observation journals, reading responses, online class blogs, and class wikis.
4. Learning to write
Effective writers are those who have learned to write across a variety of rhetorical situations, for a variety of audiences, and for a variety of purposes. Learning-to-write assignments are often higher-stakes assignments that require the writer to write with attention to the conventions of a rhetorical context (i.e. within the genre and discourse conventions of a specific community) and to move through a multi-draft writing process. Learning-to-write (LTW) assignments include academic genres (i.e. research reports, argumentative essays, analyses, annotated bibliographies) as well as civic genres (i.e. letters to the editor, proposals, reviews, blogs).