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WAC Program Origins and Rationale

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) at University of Richmond is based on the Brown University and Swarthmore College models whose success is well documented. Swarthmore's "Writing Associates Program" is an adaptation of Brown's "Writing Fellows Program." It is particularly suited to the needs of an intensive, small, liberal arts college.

In our program, specially selected undergraduates are trained to help other students improve their writing skills. They complete a course in composition theory and pedagogy as well as apprentice with experienced consultants in the Writing Center. Once accepted into the WAC program, writing consultants are assigned to serve in the Writing Center or to individual courses whose professors have requested assistance with writing.

Consultants are responsible for reviewing first drafts of course papers for no more than 15 enrolled students and offer individual conferences about each paper, suggesting more detailed strategies for problem-solving. Students then have one week to consider these suggestions and revise their drafts. Professors receive both the first draft, with annotations by the writing consultants, and the final version. Students receive detailed commentary (helpful, not judgmental) on at least two papers during the semester and students often experience long-term benefits from the collegial relationship that develops with their writing consultant.

This relationship is truly collaborative: writing consultants are learners as well as teachers. Both consultant and student have expertise: the consultant has a special knowledge of writing, and the student has a special knowledge of the subject matter. In such situations, writing and learning become truly collaborative.

Besides improving their own writing, consultants develop strong interpersonal skills while working with both their peers and professors. The privilege of being a writing consultant carries with it a clear message to future employers and educators about the student's academic accomplishments and leadership skills.

To be eligible for writing consultant assistance, instructors participate in two basic workshops and meet minimal criteria for implementing writing in their courses. The professor must agree to require all students enrolled in the course to submit a first draft of all papers to the writing consultant and to structure the course so that it requires at least two papers of substantial length and complexity, or several (three to five) shorter writing samples.

One of the greatest concerns among educators in the field of composition and rhetoric is that students do not receive continued close attention to their writing beyond first-year English. Consequently, even students who perform well in basic composition courses often lose their skills or fail to develop them as they pursue their interests in major content areas. Writing Across the Curriculum is designed to meet students' continued need for the reinforcement and development of communication skills. In a writing consultants program, that reinforcement comes not only from professors in other disciplines at all levels, but also from a student's peers.

Rationale and Goals

The Writing Across the Curriculum program views writing as an interdisciplinary process that may be ended but can never really be finished. Its members assume that every writer in every discipline, no matter how accomplished, can write better if attention is paid to the process. Its advocates believe that collaboration among student peers is an especially effective mode of learning. Writing fellows and Writing Center consultants represent the heart of the Writing Across the Curriculum program, working collaboratively in classes with instructors and students to improve student writing.

Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Richmond aims to:

  • Provide students with supplementary peer-group writing instruction beyond the required English composition course and throughout the University curriculum
  • Provide instructors with models of proven and effective writing theory and pedagogy
  • Provide upper-level students with current theoretical and pedagogical composition tools, with strong and effective interpersonal skills, and with opportunities to share their writing skills with others
  • Emphasize the importance of "writing as process" and "writing to learn" among students and instructors
  • Use relevant computer and Internet technology in the writing process, and to encourage the interdisciplinary use of such technology
  • Improve student writing across the disciplines, providing instructors with papers that are more satisfying to read and students throughout the disciplines with stronger written communication skills

Advantages of the Program for Faculty, Students, and Consultants

(outlined by Tori Haring-Smith)

  1. It is compatible with disciplines across arts and sciences. Writing consultants can be placed in any course.
  2. The procedure allows a faculty member to increase the emphasis on writing without having to feel obligated to teach writing itself. That task will be primarily left to the consultants, who may also refer a student to the Writing Center. Students will be given specific direction in curing writing problems pointed out by both the faculty member and the writing consultant.
  3. The program will be a visible indication of widespread concern for writing at the University, while simultaneously strengthening that concern by encouraging faculty university-wide to stress the importance of clear written communication in their classes.
  4. Because the writing consultants are undergraduates, their assistance is less threatening to their peers. Students who are aware of their writing deficiencies may find instruction by writing consultants more helpful and easier to manage.
  5. This program encourages students to think carefully about their writing and to revise consistently. Those who submit careless first drafts know that this draft, along with the writing consultant's comments, will be seen by the professor. Furthermore, students are encouraged to revise all drafts so that each paper a faculty member sees should have been through at least two versions. Since thoughtful revision is the key to improving writing, the consultants program will help students adopt the best of writing habits.
  6. The program will reach a large number of students for a relatively low cost.
  7. Finally, the program will be highly beneficial to those students who serve as consultants. It will provide an opportunity to learn by teaching and to gain practical experience in helping others. The title--undergraduate writing consultant--should help students convince future employers and educators of their special strengths.
  8. According to Tori Haring-Smith (and others who have adopted the Brown model):

    "The program succeeds precisely because it is collaborative. Whereas most writing-across-the-curriculum programs ask faculty to spend large amounts of time in being retrained and grading  papers, this program offers a service to faculty. Pedagogically, then, it responds to the need for students to become more actively involved in their education. It solves an educational problem not by demanding more of the already overworked faculty, but by asking more of the students. It also demonstrates that education need not be based on competition; cooperation is a more successful educational strategy."

The above information derives from material sent by Thomas Blackburn (Swarthmore) and Tori Haring-Smith (Brown).