Writing Across the Curriculum/
Writing in the Disciplines
What is WAC/WID?
WAC stands for “Writing Across the Curriculum.” It is a university-wide mandate that works on the assumption that writing is integral to students’ learning and outcomes in all classes and disciplines. Therefore, WAC programs on all CUNY campuses are committed to helping faculty, programs, and departments foster student writing and enable students to write successfully, both in typically “high stakes” situations—such as written exams or graded papers—and in “low stakes” modes—such as note-taking, brainstorming, and reading annotations. WID stands for “Writing in the Disciplines” and is the part of WAC that focuses on the importance of teaching discipline-specific writing conventions and modes.
What is a Writing Fellow?
A writing fellow is a Graduate Center doctoral candidate who is in the dissertation stage. Writing fellows spend their year writing their dissertations and working for a WAC program. They work closely with the WAC coordinator and assist faculty, programs, and departments in developing strategies to integrate writing into their teaching or their work with students. Writing fellows often do research on WAC-related issues, help develop assignments and syllabi, help create brochures and faculty events, and can participate in classes or offer writing specific segments in classes across the curriculum.
What can WAC/WID do for me?
By involving yourself in WAC, you open yourself and your classroom to a network of committed teachers and a discipline that engages writing in an integral way. WAC encourages students to participate in an active manner, through listening, writing and peer-geared activities. You may be surprised to discover how students respond more to their peers in these types of activities. For example, students normally considered “quiet” are enabled to share and get more meaning out of their classes.
What changes can I make in my classroom?
Typically, assignments in WAC promote learning through engaged reading and writing (learning-to-write and writing-to-learn). Frequent writing assignments can help students learn the subject matter of the course, as well as discipline-specific ways of thinking and writing. “Low-stakes” assignments are short, minimally graded writing assignments that help students reflect on and engage with course content in a way that lectures and exams cannot. These are called “writing-to-learn” activities. Examples may include drafts; revisions; journal entries and reading logs; free writing; written responses to assigned readings, lectures and activities; and written or oral presentations by students. WAC can also help prepare students for “high-stakes” assignments (graded assignments such as papers and exams) through sequencing with low-stakes assignments.
Won’t WAC/WID assignments require more grading and more of my time?
WAC/WID teaching methods don't necessarily involve extra grading, and they can help save time when you do grade assignments. Assigning just five minutes of non-graded, “low-stakes” writing before a class discussion may invite more articulate responses and a higher level of student engagement, while not adding to your workload. WAC and WID ideas can also help you cut the time you spend grading formal written assignments, and suggest how you can provide more helpful feedback to your students. For example, a simple rubric can convey your expectations for written assignments to student in advance and help you move through grading more quickly, as well as offer structured feedback to your students when you return their graded papers.
I need every minute of my class to teach my subject; how can I make time for writing assignments?
Writing assignments don't have to take time away from teaching your subject; in fact, using writing-to-learn activities can actually save class time by fostering critical thinking and encouraging active student engagement. Studies have shown that students who engage in active learning activities, like writing, have better learning outcomes than students who do not. Low-stakes writing assignments can help students to focus on important concepts, retain and process key ideas, and participate more effectively in class, all with very little investment of class time. Learn more about writing-to-learn.
Isn’t writing instruction the job of the English Department?
Studies have shown that students need to practice and develop their writing throughout their entire college careers in order to become successful writers. Two semesters of writing instruction can only lay the groundwork for a much longer process. ENG 111 introduces students to basic and commonly shared academic writing conventions and basic research, and it also introduces students to writing modes that foster learning and revision. ENG 151 introduces students to more serious academic research techniques and gives them an insight into academic writing and thinking across various disciplines. While these two courses prepare students to learn how to write and use writing as a way of learning, students’ development as writers depends on continued reinforcement in all courses. Also, students will require further instruction in discipline-specific writing conventions.
How can I get involved?
Attend one of our Faculty Roundtables to share your ideas about essential writing and teaching issues. Email one of our coordinators today if you, your department, or your program are interested in working with the WAC program on creating new strategies for teaching better critical writing skills. Professors who have previously worked with the WAC or Writing Fellows programs are invited to contribute short testimonials about the program for our website. We welcome your comments and suggestions.