What is Writing Across the Curriculum?
Since 2017, the University of Virginia’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) has aimed to enhance the culture of writing at the University through a pedagogical approach often known as Writing Across the Curriculum (or WAC). The common goals of WAC are (1) to expand students’ opportunities for writing across their academic careers, (2) to increase students’ writing proficiency, (3) to deepen students’ engagement with learning, (4) to foster a campus culture that supports writing, and (5) to create a community of faculty actively engaged in the development of student writing through instruction and mentorship.
Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, UVA’s WAC initiative has focused its efforts in three major areas: faculty preparation, curriculum, and infrastructure support. Primarily, this work has taken the form of (1) providing faculty resources on the teaching of writing, (2) assisting in the creation of writing-enhanced courses in the disciplines, and (3) supporting the integration of writing and writing instruction in courses across Grounds.
The directors of WAC, T. Kenny Fountain and Heidi Nobles, work with faculty, departments, and schools seeking to develop students’ writing abilities and promote students’ learning through writing, using evidence-based methods that are manageable, assessable, and sustainable.
Download a PDF about WAC at UVA (which includes references to the research that has shaped the program).
What Is the WAC Approach to Writing?
The WAC approach recognizes that writing both communicates ideas to various audiences and deepens or augments learning. In order for students to develop and sustain their writing skills, while heightening their engagement with learning, they need to practice writing to learn and writing to communicate, especially in courses in their majors. Because writing is tied to each discipline’s ways of knowing, the WAC approach encourages strategically integrating writing practice and instruction in a range of courses that use either or both writing to learn and writing to communicate—through shorter writing tasks as well as longer projects.
How Do Students Improve as Writers?
Research in writing studies and education has established that developing as a writer is similar to learning a new language or advancing as an athlete or musician; these endeavors take time and practice. In fact, students learn to improve their writing through repeated practice over time, with multiple occasions to write and revise their work in light of feedback and instruction that is informed by the knowledge and habits of mind students are expected to develop.
The following pedagogical practices can improve students’ writing abilities when integrated across a range of courses:
- The inclusion of deliberate, focused practice in writing through multiple occasions to write
- The incorporation of some type of multi-step drafting process for major writing assignments
- The requirement to revise one’s writing in response to meaningful feedback
- The inclusion of instruction and guidance that models the ways of writing, thinking, and learning students are expected to develop in the course and in the major.
What Are Writing-Enhanced Courses?
One successful way to implement these practices—which improve student writers and promote learning through writing—is to implement writing-enhanced (or WE) courses. Specifically, WE courses in the disciplines allow students to engage with and learn conventions and habits of mind from faculty with expertise in those disciplines. Plus, WE courses have been shown to improve students’ writing, deepen students’ understanding of course content, and develop students’ critical thinking skills.
As part of the WAC initiative, we are seeking courses to incorporate and provide feedback on our new WE criteria. To participate, faculty would “test run” the following criteria in one of their courses and complete two brief surveys:
- One major learning objective for the course is the development of student writing, which is reflected in the final course grade.
- Multiple writing assignments are sequenced and distributed over the course of the semester. Students write a minimum of 15-20 double-spaced pages (or the equivalent in word-dominant multimodal projects), which may include both drafts and final versions of assignments. Of this, at least 10 double-spaced pages are finished, polished writing
- Students are required to revise at least 1 longer assignment based on feedback from the instructor and/or peers. This longer assignment should be developed through some type of multi-step drafting process.
- The course provides writing instruction and repeated opportunities to discuss and practice writing.
Currently SWR courses in the College can pilot the WE criteria. You can find more information about this pilot here.
What Resources Are Available to Faculty?
T. Kenny Fountain, the Director of WAC, and Heidi Nobles, the Associate Director, work with faculty, departments, and schools seeking to foster students’ writing abilities, promote students’ learning through writing, and develop writing-enhanced courses in their majors and minors. We offer the following resources:
- Consultations: one-on-one or group meetings on course-specific or curriculum-level strategies.
- Workshops: sessions focused on practical suggestions for incorporating writing into any course. Topics include:
- responding to student writing and managing the paper load
- structure peer review sessions (in class or out of class)
- incorporating the new WE criteria into your SWR course
- guiding students in writing with sources
- offering forms of writing instruction and guidance that fit inside a content-heavy course.
- Faculty Seminar on the Teaching of Writing: a four-day seminar offered to faculty from across UVA.
- Graduate Instructor Seminar on the Teaching of Writing: a four-day seminar designed for graduate students teaching writing in schools across UVA. (A partnership with the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs)
If you have questions about workshops or would like to arrange a consultation, email T. Kenny Fountain.