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Writing Across the Curriculum

Brief History of the Writing Across the Curriculum Movement (WAC) and the Writing in the Disciplines Movement (WID)


Traditionally, writing instruction has been the responsibility of English departments in American universities, but the idea that writing could be used outside of the English department to teach course content became the foundation for the Writing Across the Curriculum movement (WAC) in the late 1970s. Instructors began to ask students to wrestle with facts and concepts by writing about them as they were learning them. An example of a "write-to-learn" strategy is a reading journal that requires each student to analyze, explain, or use the information presented in a course. These assignments are only graded for content so that students do not have to revise and edit; they can concentrate on the ideas they are trying to master.

As students become familiar with the terminology and concepts of the course, instructors can assign what are commonly called "learn-to-write" or "write-to-communicate" assignments that give students practice with the genres and the conventions used by professionals in the field. As instructors foreground rhetorical elements such as format, audience, purpose, context, and voice that are appropriate for a writing assignment, they also communicate what is credible scholarship and communication in the discipline. This second emphasis has come to be known as "Writing in the Disciplines" (WID), but many WAC proponents do not distinguish between the two concepts.

The theory behind WAC and WID programs is that students use language to make sense out of their world, so the more opportunities they have to communicate their thoughts, the better they will develop the critical thinking processes valued by the discipline, which would, in turn, translate into formal written products that meet disciplinary expectations related to organization, word choice, depth of thought, and level of detail than those created by students who have only written for general audiences and English instructors. Scholars, such as Charles Bazerman, point out that English courses can provide practice in genres and styles that are familiar to English instructors, but unfamiliar genres such as technical engineering reports and specialized design proposals are best taught in upper-level courses by professors in those fields. They are the ones who are able to guide students to adapt the nuances of style, voice, organization, and development that are embedded in their fields. 

 Works Consulted

Bazerman, Charles, and David R. Russell, eds.  Landmark Essays on Writing Across the Curriculum.  Davis, CA:  Hermagoras, 1994.  

 McLeod, Susan H., et al.  WAC for the New Millennium:  Strategies for Continuing Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs.  Urbana:  NCTE, 2001  

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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Last Updated: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 4:18:02 PM
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