Friday, October 30, 2015

The Case for WAG at SNL

by Steffanie Triller Fry

According to the WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum)Clearinghouse, the basic principles of WAC encourage the entire academic community to take responsibility for student writing. These principles encourage writing that crosses departments, subjects, and disciplines, encourage continuous writing instruction during students’ time in college, and explain that students learn by writing; moreover, in order to learn the conventions of any academic discipline, the basic principles claim that students must practice writing in that discipline (“Basic principles of WAC”).
            This winter, the SNL Writing Program will pilot a revised version of its Writing Workshop course that invites students to write in the disciplines, (a practice known in rhetoric and composition circles as WID) or, to add another acronym to our SNL catalogue, to “Write Across the Grid” (WAG).
            Students who elect the Writing Workshop course will now have the option of using the course to focus on a writing project in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, or the student’s focus area. As part of their investigation into what makes for strong academic writing, they will also consider what it means to write with a purpose and audience in the particular discipline that they have chosen. We in the Writing Program believe that this revised course will better support SNL students at all levels of writing and at all points in the program. It also fills a gap in SNL’s curriculum: there is no other course that specifically prepares students for the writing tasks they will encounter when they take courses in the A, H, S, and Focus Area domains.
But I find this a fruitful moment to remember that writing in SNL’s writing-intensive program is not only taught in Writing for Competence and Writing Workshop. Few SNL students overall take Writing Workshop, and yet all students must WAG, practicing the conventions of writing in the humanities, the social sciences, and science and technology with each course that they take. Per the “basic principles” listed above, we all share responsibility for writing instruction, even if we are not writing instructors.
According to Gottschalk and Hjortshoj, writing courses, though they prepare students for the myriad tasks that they will assume in their disciplinary courses, were never meant to replace writing instruction in the disciplines. Rather, “Real writing instruction has always occurred in other fields, contexts, and forms, in courses of all sizes and at all levels throughout the curriculum – wherever teachers take active measures to help their students write effectively” (6).
In The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines, Gottschalk and Hjortshoj go on to say that this can be as simple as being thoughtful and explicit about your own knowledge and expectations. Meanwhile, the aptly titled section “How can I avoid getting lousy student writing?” on The WAC Clearinghouse site provides practical tips for crafting clear assignments and offering students instructive models that make your expectations transparent.
In her tips for writing in the sciences for SNL students, SNL Resident Faculty member Dr. Akilah Martin concludes, “Finally, science and scientific writing has the same goal as any other genre and that is to report data in a detailed format, so as to provide the reader an opportunity to evaluate the validity of the results and conclusions centered only on the facts presented” (“Writing in the Scientific World”). Whether our genre uses the words “report,” “data,” and “results” or “narrate,” “story,” and “experience,” we can all give students clear expectations for purpose, audience, and style in their writing, better enabling them to “Write Across the Grid.”

Works Cited

“Basic principles of WAC.” The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University, n.d.

Gottschalk, Katherine, and Keith Hjortshoj. Introduction. The Elements of Teaching
Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines. Boston: Bedford / St.
Martin’s, 2004. 1-11. Print.

“Writing in the Scientific World.” SNL Faculty Support: Writing Resources. The
School for New Learning at DePaul University, 17 October 2015. Web. 29
October 2015.

Resources for Writing Across the Curriculum/Grid:
Consider using some time during your first class session to remind students of or ask them to reflect on what they have already learned about writing. Then, share your own expertise in writing in your field, and invite your students to think about how what they already know can apply to the writing that they will do in your course. These resources may be of use to you:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center:  (see “Writing for Specific Fields”)

DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning: (see “Common Writing Assignments”)

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