Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Strategies

by on November 16, 2010 in 2009-2011 with No Comments »

The following is transcript of a conversation among faculty who attended the WAC workshop on November 14, 2008.  We came across this document while working on our 5 year evaluation for the Title V LEC grant.  We think it offers valuable insights on WAC strategies.  Part I is on the teaching of writing.  Part II on the assessment of writing will follow soon.

The TEACHING of Writing

1 – Frequent writing assignments based on assigned readings.

Judith Simonsen: “I have students read a particular chapter, and then we have a class discussion on what they have read that week.  At the end of class I give a handout on guiding questions that students need to address in their written work for the next week. I always hand papers back the week after I receive them, and if I see a common confusion, we can go back and address it in class. I have been told by students that these questions are very helpful, and allow them to process what is a great deal of information in an analytical and structured manner.  Writing counts, and I let students know if there are problems in their writing.  Since work is graded, there is an incentive to go to the writing center if they have major problems with their work.”

Clyde Griffin: “For years in content courses, that is, non-writing specific courses, the one page summary has been a standard assignment. No matter how long the reading assignment, students must submit a one page, double spaced paper summarizing the content. The paper is also done in 12” font.

“The strength of this assignment is that it integrates reading and writing. Students must read the assignment and put it in their own words. When I first began working with summaries, I didn’t give students a limit to the pages. The result was that if I gave a reading assignment of 20 pages, the summary produced was also twenty pages, with much of it plagiarized. By limiting the assignment to one page, it forced the student to use their own words and to express their understanding of the content.

“My use of the one-page summary derives from my experience in West Africa where the précis writing was the foundation of the writing program. Nigerian school boys learned to write by learning to summarize selected passages of English. Through this technique they learned both new vocabulary and structure.  Throughout the English Commonwealth this was the standard way in which students in the colonies learned to write Standard English.”

Jinx Roosevelt: “I assign weekly writing tasks in all the courses I teach, whether in the MS.Ed. program or in the undergraduate Human Services program. In the CA courses I assign a portion of the CA outline each week which students must submit and that I grade and hand back for revision.

“In the Values dimension courses I teach (Philosophies of Education) I assign a ‘reaction paper’ for each of the weekly writing assignments. The reaction paper assignments require that the students first read through the assigned text ‘with their hands,’ i.e. underlining and making margin comments in any part of the text that surprises, confuses, or awes them. When they have finished reading the assigned text, they should then look back over it and select a quote that especially interests them and use this as the basis for a 2-3 page reaction paper. Reaction papers thus must include at least one quote (cited in proper APA format) and the student’s well-developed reaction to the quote.”

Ralph Leal: “In my “Research in Business” course I require students to complete an assignment at the end of each chapter. There are probably between five and ten assignments for each chapter. The assignments are due the week following the discussion of the material in class. The ten assignments represent twenty percent of the final grade, so it is incumbent on the students to complete them as they become due. In addition, students are encouraged to complete as many as five additional assignments, on topics of their own choosing, which may be used to enhance their final grade by as much as ten points.

“The syllabus for this course includes a series of information literacy tutorials on a number of subjects which support the research effort. There is one tutorial for each of the fifteen weeks of the semester. I have encouraged students to complete evaluations of these tutorials for extra credit in the class.”

Theo Damian: “I ask a student to come to the blackboard and write a full paragraph from his or her homework assignment. Then I ask students to critique the text in terms of its grammar. From there we go into discussion on rules and practices, on the difference between colloquial speech and writing.

“One other exercise is related to having the students pick a static object and describe it in one full page. This integrates critical thinking skills with writing skills. Then students read their pages aloud in class and again we critique for grammar and re-write it in the correct way.”

2. Writing based on self-assessment

Adele Weiner: “I begin every class with a requirement that asks students to post an introduction to themselves on the blackboard discussion board or the class wiki.

I keep written assignments short (2-3 pages).

“In all my CAcourses I started using a wiki to create a collective reflective journal. A demo can be found at: http://cswe2008.pbwiki.com/;

“I have started using Turnitin.com for paper submission and marking.This has an advantage of

data-sampling submissions

checking for plagiarism

students not needing printers or paper

papers can be submitted 24/7

germs don’t get passed to instructor on the print papers :).”

Yasmine Alwan: “To get students to think more critically about the choices they have made as writers, after they show me a draft, I will often ask students to define the purpose of each paragraph (to provide evidence? to raise a counter argument? to provide background?). I ask them to write this as a clear one or two-sentence statement next to each paragraph. If they can’t define the purpose of the paragraph, they must rewrite the paragraph so they can. It can be surprisingly difficult to think on this meta-level for students, but can help them see how to make each paragraph purposeful and clear. I do the same with the main idea/thesis statement for any kind of paper, separately from the paper itself, i.e. “Please explain your thesis statement in two or three sentences.” For students who tend to run from one idea to the next, this prioritizing thinking can be helpful for their rewriting.

“In the classroom, I tend to ask students to write short pieces every week (2 pages) that extend out of a sample discussed extensively on class. They bring the paper to class always either share it out loud or trade with others for comments for specific things about the paper before reading to the group (such as how well did your peer use details?).

Ann Scalia: “The writing tasks I assign to my students are one self-expression essay, no longer than two double-spaced typed pages relevant to the course, using correct grammar and punctuation throughout, and typed responses to selected conceptual questions from the students’ course textbook, no longer than two double-spaced  pages.

“When writing papers, students should act as two people: the writer and the audience to whom the writing is sent.”

3. Writing based on course content

Charles Gray: In my Purpose 5 skills class (Counseling) the students have two written assignments: a mid-term and a final.The papers focus on (1) a brief description of the citizen and the goal, (2) counseling theory utilized during the semester, (3) the most helpful skill used during the semester, and (4) practice application integrating concepts and theory.

“The primary purpose is to have the students describe how they have integrated concepts/theory in their practice.  For example, it is important for the students to be aware of the connectiveness between the client, goal, and counseling theory chosen.  In turn, it is important for the students to be aware of how skills utilization is tied to the counseling theory.

“Finally, it is important for the students to be able to integrate dimension classes into the CA.  The papers assigned can be adapted (with editing) into appropriate sections of the CA.  Furthermore, the assignments promote my educational philosophy: integration of theory & practice, developing a theoretical base for one’s practice, honing/developing conceptual and critical thinking skills.”

Heide Hlawaty: “I connect writing to real world problems, so that students are writing about content, as well as how that subject affects them. By doing so, I tap into the critical thinking skills necessary for students to articulate their thoughts in a matter that makes the material important to them.

“The task that I utilize is one which connects the experiential learning component of our model of education to a writing opportunity. The American Urban Studies program is a liberal-arts based major that incorporates experiential learning opportunities often not found in Human Services or Business Administration. The Freshmen Earth Science course (first semester) visits the American Museum of Natural History museum as a field trip. During this first visit there, the students answer the following question (along with several others): What makes the Earth inhabitable? What makes the Earth inhabitable? Supported by evidence found in some of the halls of the museum, students cite examples of extreme conditions where life exists, as well as how life evolved. Then, they explain the conditions that cause areas of the Earth to be inhabitable. Lastly, students then write what they can do or what they would like to see done so that they can foster the habitability of the Earth. Students are assessed on their grammar and content, as well as on their evidence and writing progression.

“I like this activity because it incorporates both experiential learning, Earth science, and writing. And, that rocks!”

Andrew Brown: “In my MPA Constructive Action class, I provide samples of my own CA as a model writing sample to help them begin their writing. The students are tasked with writing a version of the provided sample section as it specifically pertains to their organization in relation to the theoretical concepts learned in our class and across other dimensions. They are required to write ORIGINAL work using the model as a basis of proper grammar, spelling, structure of thought and reasoning, as well as APA formatting.

“I ask students to write logs on their perceptions and theoretical understanding of how their group work dynamics transpired in analyzing each other’s work.

“I ask students to be ever mindful of the “reader” so that they are writing as if their audience has no idea about their organization; they should write an academic manner that fully discloses important information to the respective section while being diplomatic as well.”

Pat Gay: “I have also adopted Andrew’s format of providing a visual model which students can build upon. I also went as far as to provide them with the pdf form of the template. This works as an additional opportunity for providing some basic computer literacy, thus forcing them to work with attachments, as well as to create and format their own Word documents.

“Purpose one students in the Audrey Cohen School for Human Service and education enter the CA classroom needing a better understanding of the Audrey Cohen PCE model. In order to reinforce this lesson and ascertain whether they are beginning to see the cohesive nature of their dimension classes and the CA class, I assign weekly in-class writing assignments. One such task was a reaction paper on  ‘Radical Quartet’ written by H. Daniel Gregoire in the “Human Services Reflections Journal”.

The paper serves multiple purposes:

It is a vocabulary building tool

An exercise in argumentative essay writing

An introduction to the dimensions of Purpose Centered Education

An exercise in critical thinking

Basic comprehension and reflection

APA style citation

and much more.

The submitted paper should be no more than two and a half pages in length.”


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