The original groundbreaking idea for writing across the curriculum came out of England in the late 1960’s, and was focused on the relationships between writing and learning in the schools. In 1969, James Britton and his colleagues published a report of their foundational research in Language, the Learner and the School (Douglas Barnes, James Britton, Harold Rosen). In the United States a number of composition scholars, building in part on their British predecessors, provided a research base and an institutional shape to writing across the curriculum initiatives. Key texts in this tradition include Janet Emig’s Writing as a Mode of Learning (1977) and Barbara Walvoord’s Thinking and Writing in College (1990).
Broadly speaking, the central premise behind Writing Across the Curriculum is that students need to write, informally and formally, in all of their courses in order to better learn the material (we “write to learn”), and to develop expertise as academic writers. As noted by one of the founding fathers, “The WAC movement encourages adding writing-to-learn to most courses for two principal purposes: 1) students will learn the material better and 2) this better understanding will lead to improved written communication.” (Art Young). WAC is thus often considered a pedagogical movement, working to change modes of learning and teaching, particularly the reliance on multiple choice and short answer modes of assessment. Proponents argue that WAC not only makes students stronger writers, but also provides more opportunities for students to integrate their learning across the disciplines. They also claim that there are writing experiences and exercises that cut across the disciplines. Of course “Writing” also implies reading in this undergraduate curriculum reform movement; an additional community, Communication across the Curriculum (CAC), includes oral communication within the mandate.
Some compositionists prefer the designation WID, Writing in the Disciplines, and argue that WAC programs should be more focused on writing within disciplinary frameworks. Recognizing the particular modes and conventions specific to various academic discourses in the disciplines, WID privileges the context of writing and its typical forms and styles. As an extension of WID, Writing in the Professions (WIP) focuses on writing within specific professions rather than disciplinary bodies of knowledge.
At CUNY and KCC, we aim to develop programs that situate writing across and within all academic departments and programs, spanning the disciplines and the professions.
(Adapted from the WAC/WID Program Information and Resource Booklet 2007-2008 by The CUNY WAC/WID Planning Committee)