While writing to demonstrate learning is the most common goal of any writing assignment, instructors may also wish to encourage assignments that involve writing to learn. These low-stakes assignments will allow students to explore ideas and issues that will help guide them in their learning. As indicated by Farris & Smith (1992), a WAC program can help establish criteria for writing-intensive courses, consult in the design of the courses, give incentives for teaching the courses, and provide grading support.
Since WAC programs deal with the basics of the composing process, and because teaching that process undergoes tremendous change, WAC programs are innovative by nature. Such programs challenges passive learning, routine training, and rigid disciplinarity (Williams, 2000). A detailed WAC program is one that would utilize the concepts of definition, classification, summary, comparison or contrast, analysis, and academic argument. Each successive skills requires repeating and reinforcing the earlier skills, and provides sample assignments which would require varying levels of each skill (Williams, 2000).
Several studies have pointed to the benefits of successful WAC programs both for students and their teachers. For students, these programs strengthen critical thinking skills and writing ability, while also promoting overall literacy and active participation in learning (Hughes-Weiner, 1989). For faculty members, the programs address such problems as disciplinary isolation and teacher burnout, while improving camaraderie, curricular coherence and institution-wide morale (Hughes-Weiner, 1989). Research indicates that most successful WAC programs begin with faculty workshops to convince teachers that students learn more about a subject by writing about it than by taking true-false or multiple-choice tests (Williams, 2000). Furthermore, successful training models have included multiweek summer seminars funded by soft money; semester- or year-long faculty seminars, with weekly or monthly meetings; and one- or two-day intensive workshops during a given term.
WAC program Techniques
Researchers have suggested the implementation of the following techniques in order to operate a successful WAC program. Such techniques include guiding student notetaking through outlines and study guides, requiring students to respond to lectures in ungraded journals, and making short writing assignments on course materials to give instructors the opportunity to respond to students' writing and provide constructive feedback. Additional techniques include giving essay tests to encourage spontaneous writing and give students experience in organizing material quickly and having students evaluate each others' written work. Moss and Holder (1981) recommend the use of collaborative learning strategies to prepare students to participate in the types of team projects they will encounter in their professional lives. Students work in small groups to complete course assignments, and provide each other with feedback on oral presentations, rough drafts, and final papers (Moss & Holder, 1981).
Research by Drummond (2002) outlines the best practices used in the implementation of WAC programs. According to Drummond, effective teachers offer ways for the learners to take an active role, for at least a portion of the class, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate strategies, and evaluating the outcomes, both internal and external. Drummond states that learner participation is a significant element of any WAC program. According to Drummond (2002), learner's readiness and willingness can be optimized by offering an invitation to step into the learning process and take responsibility for their own learning.
Although many different activities can be created to enable learning, the teacher's initial role is to set conditions to draw forth the past experience of each and every learner (Drummond, 2002). Initial questions may arise in the discussion that can guide subsequent experiences, and disagreements can illuminate for the teacher an initial focus for the class to study (Drummond, 2002). Next, teachers document the course of the learning experience, gathering notes, audio and video recordings, learner's initial products, and dialog. Finally, at the end of the experience, learners reflect together upon what has occurred for them over the duration of the work. This reflection socially constructs meta-cognitive understanding of learning as a human activity Drummond, 2002).
According to Drummond (2002), the teacher has experience in the evolution of knowledge, skills and dispositions that lay beyond the learner's awareness. The teacher also brings his or her evolving understanding of the relation of the current study to what it means to be human. The content of a learning opportunity is ultimately social; it relates to what it means to be fully enabled to act for the welfare of self and society (Drummond, 2002). Finally, Drummond (2002) states that the experience of the classroom itself is continually open to analysis. By involving every participant in reflection, holding a mirror to what they do, the teacher both illuminates and engenders the dispositions to learn (Drummond, 2002).
Philosophy of Literacy Instruction
Finally, the research indicates that writing is a powerful learning tool, and teachers can help students master the techniques of writing to learn. When writing expressively, students are concerned with getting it out and getting it down, rather than with writing to please the teacher (Williams, 2000). Writing can be a powerful tool for students who need to internalize content and to discover a relationship between school content and their own knowledge. Additionally, teachers who use writing as a learning tool across a variety of subjects provide students with frequent opportunities to write expressively in order to wrestle with classroom content. They may require students to keep a content journal where they will be able to write or think freely, without concern about their prose being marked for errors (Williams, 2000). Students might conduct long-term observations of some phenomenon through the journal. In their journals, students can take risks they would never take in writing to be corrected (Williams, 2000).
A successful WAC program model would encourage students to revise drafts of their work focusing on coherence and clarity of expression, and read their papers aloud to themselves or to peers during the revision process. Students would receive a lot of feedback on their writing from both teachers and peers, without the pressure of grading. Class time spent on writing whole, original pieces by establishing real purposes for writing and student involvement in the task would be increased, and time spent on isolated drills involving grammar, vocabulary, spelling, paragraphing and penmanship would be decreased. Additionally, teacher modeling writing as a fellow author and as a demonstration of processes would be increased. Teacher talking about writing but never writing or sharing his or her own work would also be decreased.
Other elements of a successful WAC program, as implemented in the K-12 grades would be to increase the study of grammar and mechanics in context, at the editing stage. Additionally, isolated grammar lessons would be decreased, given in order determined by textbook, before writing is begun. Language errors would be addressed in context to enhance transfer of new skills to new situations. Finally, the implementation of a writing program would only enhance learning, securing the future of our leaders.
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