Writing Across the Curriculum Research Paper Starter

Writing Across the Curriculum

(Research Starters)

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is an educational movement that began in the 1970s and has continued to be a strong movement in schools and districts today. WAC has been implemented across all levels of education and is based on the premise that writing is not only a necessary skill but also can be used as a significant tool for learning across all subject areas. WAC can be divided into two approaches — Writing in the Disciplines (WID) and Writing to Learn (WTL). It has also generated other separate learning movements, including Electronic Communication Across Curriculum (ECAC) and Language & Learning Across the Curriculum (LALAC).

Keywords: Electronic Communication Across Curriculum (ECAC); Language and Learning Across the Curriculum (LALAC); Learning Communities; Service Learning; Writing Across Curriculum (WAC); Writing Centers; Writing in the Disciplines (WID); Writing to Learn (WTL)


One of the biggest misconceptions about many “soft” skills is that students can learn them in an English course and simply have them in their bank of knowledge. However, all of these skills are learned through practice over time. Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) is a longstanding educational movement that seeks to improve students' critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills by integrating writing instruction throughout all disciplines and courses, and throughout a student's entire academic career (Dana, Hancock & Phillips, 2011). Writing Across the Curriculum began in colleges and universities across the country in the 1970s as a way to improve the writing of undergraduate students. Soon afterward, the movement filtered down into K-12 schools, and continues in many districts and schools nationwide as one of the most enduring movements in educational reform.

The WAC movement, like many school reform movements, was born from a response to what many perceived as crisis for America — that American students were dangerously unprepared for the work force due to their poor writing skills. Railsback (2004) notes that this trend continues — in fact, those WAC programs that are seen as most successful today were prompted by the current standards movement in American education.

The WAC movement found its roots in early American education. Previously, writing skills were not necessarily center in the discussion pertaining to good educational practices. Writing was often not taught until later in school because it was perceived that students needed to master reading prior to writing. However, in 1874, Harvard University implemented a written entrance exam for admission. Subsequently, the school also put into practice a writing course for each incoming freshman class in response to the poor writing skills observed in upperclassmen. This quickly set off a movement to improve writing instruction in all schools (National Writing Project & Nagin, 2003).

From that time on, writing became a central concern for education in America. The movement gained even more momentum in 1975, when Newsweek magazine released the article, "Why Johnny Can't Write," declaring a sweeping crisis across the nation due to students' poor writing skills. The successive increase in remediation of writing instruction at not only the university level but also elementary and secondary education gave birth to the WAC movement that continues today, albeit in various forms (National Writing Project & Nagin, 2003).

Writing Across the Curriculum Today

In preparation for new testing in the fall of 2014, district leaders increased writing and shifted it across the curriculum as means of teaching to the Common Core standards. Under Common Core, district literacy must supplement narrative and opinion writing with information-based writing and evidence-based argumentative writing not just in English Language Arts but in civics, science, and even math education (Daddona, 2013). The intent of these programs includes escalating the frequency of writing in schools, incorporating writing instruction across various subject and content areas, and promoting writing and writing instruction as an educational tool (Railsback, 2004). Railsback (2004) cautions that WAC is not simply an instructional method for writing; rather it includes writing across various subjects in order to help students learn, engage, and reflect upon their studies.

Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) is a distinct movement defined chiefly by its teaching method. It moves away from teaching students solely through the lecture and towards a paradigm of increasing student engagement of the topic through writing, across all subjects. Supporters of WAC argue that the various writing programs and practices implemented in schools help students in various ways such as increasing communication and problem solving skills as well as helping students learn the material at hand (McLeod & Miraglia, 2001).

The WAC movement introduced new practices into American schools, and the movement has evolved and changed drastically since its primary introduction in the 1970s. However, there are also many schools and districts in which WAC was never truly implemented, as the challenges of training and results were too large to overcome (Barr & Healy, 1988). In those districts and schools that have strong WAC programs, instructional practices and professional development for teachers has revolved around the WAC for years (Railsback, 2004).

  • The Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) movement initiated myriad practices in American schools, including:
  • Writing centers specifically set up to help students improve their writing skills across content areas,
  • Incorporating writing into service learning,
  • Setting up learning communities,
  • Collaboration with other schools and between K-12 and higher education, and
  • The introduction of writing intensive courses.

Furthermore, at the classroom level, educators are using the WAC practices, which are often divided into two categories — Writing in the Disciplines (WID) and Writing to Learn (WTL).

With the changes in technology and in student demographics, WAC has continued to be seen as an important movement for providing students with the best education. The movement has evolved as technology has introduced new aspects of writing that schools and educators can implement into schools and individual classrooms. With the demographics of American students having changed dramatically after entering the twenty-first century, WAC practices continue to be seen as important tools for educators to implement across various subjects.

The call for increased writing instruction in America's schools is still prevalent today, and is founded upon an amalgamation of factors. In 2003, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) released a report in which they found that only forty-nine percent of high school seniors were receiving written assignments of three pages or more. Thirty-nine percent "never" or "hardly ever" received these types of assignments. Only a quarter of these high school seniors were found to perform at or above proficiency level in writing. Policymakers worried that high schools were not adequately preparing students for life beyond high school, and called for increased writing in all subjects (NCES, 2003).

Railsback (2004) points out that the focus on writing ability has increased significantly, across all topics, in many states. New standardized state tests as well as tests for high school graduation or college admission include writing standards in various content areas. For example, since 2005, both the SAT and ACT require a writing section, and many state standardized exams have also implemented a writing section in various subject areas. Today's students must demonstrate competency in writing across a broad variety of disciplines.

The focus on writing instruction in K-12 is also fueled by the number of college students who are finding themselves without the skills to meet the writing standards in their colleges and universities. Many students, once they arrive at college, are placed into pre-college writing courses. These students are more often than not students of color, low-income, and non-native English speakers. Because the writing courses that they are placed into are considered remedial, they often do not count towards graduation requirements, and may require additional fees (Railsback, 2004).

A final reason that WAC has endured in the American educational landscape may be the new and changing demands of the work force. As Americans begin populating a work force with changing demands, the skill level of one's writing capabilities have become important across all disciplines (Railsback, 2004).



Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) has been flanked by two approaches to writing, both fueled by the idea that writing can help students learn more fully: Language and Learning Across the Curriculum (LALAC) and Electronic Communication across Curriculum (ECAC). LALAC places a primary focus on the importance of all areas of language, including writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Regardless of the topic or subject, LALAC employs all of...

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