Paper #5

A Discipline Divided

As I reflect on the literature we have read this semester, I realize that the
state of our beloved field reflects the current state of our beloved country: we’re divided. The 2016 presidential election was over a week ago, and it seems that individuals across the United States who are voicing their distress over and disgust for our nation-dividedcurrent president-elect will continue to do so long after inauguration day in January. The debates in the field of English over foundations, theories, practices, and approaches likewise carry on. And, like politics, our English-related debates have developed over decades and continue to persist. Literary studies, for example, oppresses composition with its humanist approach to pedagogy, thereby deeming literary studies as superior and composition as “a barely tolerated stepchild (cited in Gaillet, p. 164). Tensions persist, but in the midst of them, we—citizens and scholars—must still work to be productive.

Our effort to be productive ensures that we continue to move forward as a field, advancing the work of our predecessors in spite of those who challenge us. WAC is a response to the tensions in and surrounding our field (Depew, personal communication, October 26, 2016). It works to cultivate students’ understanding of the discourse of a discipline so they may write across the disciplines successfully.

A Major Question in WAC

Scholars in this field often question whether goal-oriented progress, or the use of outcomes, increases the tension that exists between the disciplines. Interestingly, institutions who utilize a WAC model each designate their own outcomes to work toward, but for Condon and Rutz (2013), successful WAC programs are supported by a complex infrastructure that supports general education and first-year seminar goals (p. 359). Disciplines across the university as well as first-year programs across institutions, therefore, need to be in conversation with each other for WAC programs to thrive. For Fishman and Reiff (2015), first-year composition (FYC) has become less isolated from the rest of the university due to WAC (p. 69), so this expectation should not seem so ambitious.

WAC Objects of Study


The field seems to accept that there’s “no one writing course that can accomplish the curricular or pedagogical goal of teaching students ‘how to write’” (Reiff, et al., 2015, p. 121). For this reason, various curricula have become sites of study to understand how students are learning and what they are doing with that learning beyond FYC (Ballif; Boone, et al.; Kinney & Costello). These sites serve as just one of the several objects of study (OoS) used by the field to measure the effectiveness of various WAC pedagogies. Of course, we still lack interdisciplinary conversation with our colleagues outside the field of composition (and some of these colleagues may still be scholars of English), so other OoSes are often focused within composition classrooms; students, their writing, and instructor pedagogy allow us to gain insight into the effectivity of specific WAC curricula.

For example, the use of writing to learn exercises in the classroom prompts students to think through key ideas and concepts. We use experimental studies, administering pre-tests and post-tests to allow us to capture the development of skills that occurs in students during the course of a semester. We also use case studies of students, which are designed to prompt students to talk about how the writing is shaping their understanding of the content of the discipline. Case studies are not limited to students, of course; at times, case studies of instructor pedagogy have proven to provide valuable insight into the learning and writing environment (Bacon; Beaufort; McCarthy; Nelms & Dively; Sternglass; Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak).

Our goal is to make the learning and teaching experience transparent for both the student and the teacher. Doing so could lead to not only successful transfer from first-year composition to other writing situations for students, but it could also enable instructors to enhance their goalinstructional strategies to further support transfer (e.g. student understanding of context in classes outside of and beyond FYC). These benefits, however, can only achieve their potential through communication and cooperation across the disciplines. So with such potential benefits that could result from WAC, I can’t help but wonder why the disciplines remain divided. Why do we resist each other? Or better yet, why do other fields (English and non-English) continue to resist composition? It’s ironic to me that the university often prides itself in its interdisciplinarity, but when it comes to reaching across the aisle to a different discipline, power often takes priority over cooperation.


Condon, W. & Rutz, C. (2013). A taxonomy of writing across the curriculum programs: Evolving to serve broader agendas. Conference on College Composition 64(2), 357-382.

Fishman, J. & Reiff, M. J. (2015). Taking the high road: Teaching for transfer in an FYC program. In M. J. Reiff, et al. (Eds.), Ecologies of writing programs: Program profiles in context (pp. 68-90). Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

Gaillet, L. L. (2009). A socially constructed view of reading and writing: Historical alternatives to “bridging the gap.” In L. Ostergaard, J. Ludwig, & J. Nugent (Eds.), Transforming English studies: New voices in an emerging genre (pp. 163-178). West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press.

Paper #4

vietnam-war-hub-aWhile over 200,000 American troops were fighting abroad in the Vietnam War by the 1970s, American education at home was taking a shift toward science, technology, engineering, and math studies (STEM) in order to better prepare a workforce for post-industrial society. Writing education, as a result, also shifted, seeking to identify pedagogical approaches for getting students to think about the content in their various courses and the interrelatedness of writing between them. According to Kevin Eric DePew, Associate Professor of English at Old Dominion University, Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) emerged as a product of the 70s and a response to this writing studies need: “Though they weren’t using the acronym STEM yet, you had the sense of making everything very STEM-like, or practical, including writing” (personal communication, October 26, 2016). In a post-industrial society in which services were dependent upon intelligent designers and users of technology, practicality in writing meant that the consumers, or students, would be able to see the usefulness and transferability of their writing skills across contexts.

WAC was one way to get students to perform better by using writing to get them to think about the course content. Today, linked courses, learning commons, and learning communities are an extension of WAC, and if done well, the literacy students learn in the writing class can be used to think
about the material being learned in classes of other subject matter. At institutions where WAC curriculums are utilized, instructors often talk to each other about ways of building knowledge that complement each other as well as foster the transfer of knowledge and skills.


In the WAC field, different methods are utilized by administration, instructors, and scholars to test whether WAC pedagogy is effective. According to DePew, two of the most common methods are experimental study and case study (personal communication, October 26, 2016). To conduct an experimental study, a pretest is often administered at the beginning of the semester to see what the students have knowledge in. Two classes may be chosen, one of which serves as the variable group and is taught with a WAC pedagogy, and the second of which serves as the control group. At the end of the semester, another test is administered to see how student knowledge of the course material has changed among students throughout the duration of the course for both classes. In contrast, case studies are designed to prompt students to talk about how the writing is shaping their understanding of the content of the discipline. The use of writing to learn exercises in the classroom, for example, prompts students to think through key ideas and concepts, and case studies also allow us to witness student development through such exercises.

It seems that WAC, as a practical field, uses practical methods to determine its effectivity. Interestingly, the theories in the field that are used to generate knowledge are also practical. One common theory know-thyselfrepresented in WAC is rhetorical theory, which Bazerman and Russell (1994) discuss in their introduction to Landmark Essays. WAC was evident in the rhetorical traditions of the Ancient Greeks as it is today, and for Bazermen and Russell, there is a long tradition in rhetorical theory to support the reasons we have WAC.

Trends in the field reveal that there has been a movement toward practical writing exercises; English instructors are using writing to help students think about the context of their writing situation. This movement has had more buy-in among faculty, a noteworthy point considering that in the beginning of the WAC movement, there were some scholars who pushed against WAC, advocating for expressivist approaches to FYC. DePew commentated that “[t]he desire among WAC stakeholders—deans, instructors, students, etc.—is to use WAC to build an infrastructure or transfer within the university that is sustainable. . . WAC is a field that works to create partnerships with other disciplines rather than trying to ‘save the disciplines’. Proponents of WAC don’t force people to do WAC. . . it should always be voluntary because in order to get success, one must breed success” (personal communication, October 26, 2016). Debates in the field are therefore old as most support the notion that for students to be effective writers in their STEM classes, they must develop the necessary (and practical) writing skills in their FYC classes.

In spite of its ambitions, common theories, methodologies, and trends, WAC remains to be a challenging pedagogy to assess because WAC looks different at every institution. In assessment, scholars seek to determine what is best practice for their program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that best practice for one program will be the same for another program, so why is it that while WAC seeks to encourage students to see interdisciplinarity across contexts, WAC is rarely the same across institutions?


Bazerman, C., & Russell, D. (Eds.). (1994). Landmark essays on writing across the curriculum. New York, NY: Hermagoras Press.

PAB Entry #6

college-writing-and-beyondIn Appendix A to her second book, College Writing and Beyond (2007), Anne Beaufort worked to improve learning outcomes, “including positive transfer of learning for an academic writing class.”  But five years later, after further reading, reflection, and observation of her students’ difficulties, she recognizes the need to give students “a stronger skill base in academic writing and to foster more positive transfer of learning from writing courses to other contexts for writing” as she articulates in her article, “College Writing and Beyond: Five Years Later” (2012). Here, she revisits her sample course outline and previous suggestions, acknowledges the problems she sees with the pedagogy and curriculum she previously set forth, and explains what she is now experimenting with as she continues to teach college writing.

Beaufort highlights four considerations for improvement to her previously proposed curriculum:

  1. Clarifying assumptions about learning goals in writing courses
  2. The issue of guideline for course theme(s) and the relationship to teaching for transfer
  3. Applying principles of transfer of learning explicitly to the pedagogy associated with associated with any writing tasks in any instructional setting
  4. The ideal types and number of genres in academic writing classes with pragmatic aims

When discussing her first consideration, Beaufort acknowledges that “the major writing projects proposed in Appendix A are not the best for helping students gain analytic skills and rhetorical skills in typical academic genres. Students are asked to write in too many genres in a single writing course and in genres that are not widely used in a lot of other academic disciplines.”

When discussing the second consideration, she identifies her proposal in Appendix A to utilize a course theme, “Writing as Social Practice.” Beaufort’s concern here is not with the proposed theme, however—it is the limitation she implicitly set on potential themes: What I did not say as clearly as I would like to now is that this is only one possible course theme that would encourage in-depth intellectual exploration into subjects from any number of discourse communities.” Further, Beaufort notes that “Writing as Social Practice” as a theme “would enable writers to become more self-aware [but she] conflated that goal with the goal of teaching for transfer. Teaching for transfer can be accomplished, if appropriate strategies are used, no matter what the course’s subject matter.”


For the third consideration, Beaufort expresses her concern for the little explicit instruction given to writing teachers that is needed to teach students to understand and apply key concepts to writing tasks (discourse community, genre, rhetorical context, etc.). She notes that “[t]asks must be framed appropriately and repeatedly in order for writers to carry forward those big concepts to help them analyze and successfully accomplish writing tasks in other situations.” Also, helping students to understand and apply genre theory should become a standard practice in composition pedagogy, which was not previously made clear in Appendix A.

For the fourth consideration, Beaufort submits, “I did not think through carefully enough whether the particular genres I suggested for writing assignments in Appendix A would be most efficacious for teaching core academic writing skills.” She explains that she has removed her previous assignments from the syllabus (literacy autobiography, genre analysis, and ethnography assignment) and replaced them with two major assignments: a rhetorical analysis of a nonfiction text and a literature review of a body of research that seeks to address an important question.

Beaufort’s revisions cause me to reflect on my own pedagogy and curriculum design for first-year composition. I appreciate her honesty and candidness, and question to what extent I am encouraging students to compose in genres that will be meaningless to them once they have completed FYC. Or, is the integration of genre awareness as a threshold concept in my curriculum useful regardless of the genres students actually compose?

Beaufort, A. (2012). College writing and beyond: Five years later. Composition Forum 26. Retrieved from

PAB Entry #5

In their article, “Articulating Claims and Presenting Evidence: A Study of Twelve Student Writers, From First-Year Composition to Writing Across the Curriculum,” J. Paul Johnson and Ethan Krase share their longitudinal study in which they examined transfer as a key component of argumentation from first-year composition (FYC) to writing across the curriculum (WAC) in the junior and senior years of college. After highlighting several studies that have also analyzed transfer of argument skills (Rose, 1989; Dias et al., 1999Smit, 2004; Thaiss and Zawacki, 2006; Wardle, 2007; Greene & Orr, 2007; Fukuzawa & Boyd, 2008), Johnson and Krase align themselves with Toulmin’s method of argument, noting that “Toulmin’s taxonomy of argument allows for accommodation of the generic features of argument, primarily its use of claims and evidence, across multiple disciplinary areas” (p. 33). They define claim as “the main point a writer hopes to assert,” which is supported by evidence, or what Toulmin called data (p. 32).



Using these definitions, the authors conducted their study seeking to answer the following questions: “Did students employ claims in their writing in FYC and WAC? Were students’ claims clear, concise and qualified? Did students support claims with authoritative, varied, and documented evidence? As students progressed through and beyond FYC to WAC in their various undergraduate majors, did their abilities to employ claims and evidence improve?” (Johnson & Krase, 2013, p. 33).

Twelve students participated in the study, and in order to examine more closely “individual students’ transition from FYC to their later WAC coursework, [the authors] collected and triangulated data from multiple sources and at various stages of development” (p. 33). Data from each student portfolio allowed the authors to examine students writing at three specific points: 1.) the start of first-year composition, 2.) the end of first-year composition, and 3.) during writing across the curriculum.

evidenceThe authors note that the evidence from their study suggests that the majority of the twelve students improved their ability to articulate claims and support them with evidence in FYC. In the WAC courses, the authors found that “[w]hile the students in this study encountered in WAC a diverse variety of genres, most of those genres required them to support claims with evidence. In this regard, students appeared to benefit from related instruction in FYC. That is to say, students’ development of ability to articulate and support claims in FYC appeared directly related to their ability to do so in their later WAC courses” (p. 46). But after reading this article, I have several questions for the authors about their methodology in this study. Were FYC instructors teaching with transfer—or WAC at the very least—in mind? While enrolled in WAC, were students prompted to recall the skills learned in FYC? To what extent were the students responsible for their own transfer?

These methodology questions beg some larger questions for me regarding WAC and transfer: How is transfer taught for in a WAC curriculum? To what extent is the onus left on the students to transfer writing skills across contexts? Do FYC instructors encourage students to think beyond FYC? Or do WAC instructors prompt students to recall what they learned in FYC?

Johnson, J.P. and Krase, E. (2012). Articulating Claims and Presenting Evidence: A Study of twelve student writers, from first-year composition to writing across the curriculum. The WAC Journal 23, 31-48.