Origin, Influences

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) at University of Richmond is based on the Brown and Swarthmore 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 practice as well as gain experience in the Writing Center. Once accepted into the WAC program, Writing Fellows, as they are called here, are assigned to individual courses whose professors have requested assistance with writing.

Fellows are responsible for reviewing first drafts of course papers for no more than fifteen 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 Fellows, and the final version. Students receive detailed commentary (helpful, not judgmental) on at least two papers during the semester and often benefit from the close relationship that develops between Writing Fellow and student.

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

Besides improving their own writing, Fellows develop strong interpersonal skills in consulting with both their peers and professors. The privilege of being a Writing Fellow 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 Fellow 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 Fellow 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 freshman 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 Fellows program, that reinforcement comes not only from professors in other disciplines at all levels, but also from a student's peers.

Advantages of the Program for Faculty, Students, and Fellows (outlined by Tori Haring-Smith)

  1. It is compatible with disciplines across arts and sciences. Writing Fellows 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 Fellows, 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 Fellow.
  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 Fellows are undergraduates, they need not threaten their peers. Students who are aware of their writing deficiencies may find instruction by Writing Fellows 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 Fellow'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 Fellows 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 Fellows. It will provide an opportunity to learn by teaching and to gain practical experience in helping others. The title--Undergraduate Writing Fellow--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).

Description

The WAC program solicits faculty and student participants every semester. Faculty participants engage in an orientation session and implement several program elements in their classes. Students apply to become Writing Fellows and/or Writing Center Tutors and take a three-hour required training course: Composition Theory and Pedagogy.

Faculty participants request Writing Fellows for their courses, which are assigned by the program administrators. The Writing Fellows meet their instructors to determine the specific goals to be accomplished through their work with student writers.

Instructors agree to assign two to three substantive papers in the semester and to require enrolled students to attend conferences with Writing Fellows assigned to their class. Writing Fellows receive first drafts and provide extensive written commentary. Before returning these papers, Writing Fellows conduct one-on-one writing conferences with each student to clarify written commentary and to suggest areas for improvement. At no time does the Writing Fellow evaluate student writing; all commentary is aimed at improving the writing process, not the content of the individual paper. Writing Fellows and Writing Center Tutors generally need no content-specific knowledge to engage in a writing conference. Fellows and Tutors focus more on the writing process than on the specific writing assignment.

After students and Writing Fellows meet for their one-on-one writing conferences, students revise their papers and submit to the instructor for evaluation both the first draft with Writing Fellow's commentary and the final, revised draft. The result is better written papers that are more satisfying to read and grade.

Writing Fellows, participating faculty, and students enrolled in courses with Writing Fellows complete an annual evaluation of the program. The results of these evaluations are tabulated and analyzed to find areas of strength and weakness. Program changes result to strengthen areas of weakness. These changes are authorized by the program administrators and advisory committee and implemented by participating instructors and Writing Fellows.

The success of the program depends heavily upon the enthusiasm and cooperation of the instructors who have requested fellows, and upon the quality of work accomplished by the Writing Fellows. Instructors are admitted to the program only after agreeing to uphold the program goals. Both Writing Fellows and Writing Center Tutors are carefully screened through letters of recommendation, personal interviews, and successful completion of the training course.

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