restricted access 13. Crossing Thresholds: What’s to Know about Writing across the Curriculum
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13 C r o s s i n g T h r e s h o l d s DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c0013 What’s to Know about Writing across the Curriculum Chris M. Anson The time [in the weeklong workshop] spent on articulating goals for assignments and sequencing them, breaking down larger projects, using low-stakes writing to strengthen learning, facilitating peer response, and discussing rubrics has helped me see how I can better support students’ writing, experience success in the class, and generate excitement about the content. —Faculty member, art history. Faculty in disciplines across the curriculum—civil engineering, musicology , plant genetics—daily put to use extensive knowledge about writing. Whether they’re working on the next article for the Journal of Behavioral Science, typing advisory comments on a student’s thesis, designing a syllabus , or contributing to a committee report, they are, in the best sense of the word, writers. And although most writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC)1 experts can share anecdotes about faculty who self-deprecatingly call into question their own writing ability, any glance at their routines will show that within their fields of specialization, they usually do just fine. When brought to the surface, these faculty members’ knowledge about writing sometimes provides them with strategies for mentoring novices in their classrooms, especially at the higher reaches of the curriculum . A nanotechnology researcher, for example, knows how to structure a good poster presentation for a conference and will guide a student to learn the conventions of this genre. However, for most faculty, concepts that inhabit the world of writing studies and its pedagogy may be distant memories fading at the edges of their own early undergraduate education in composition—if there was even much there to remember (Jarratt et al. 2009). 204   Part 2 : Using Threshold Concepts One role of WAC leaders is to (re)introduce threshold writing concepts through the terministic screen of pedagogy: What can teachers do in their content courses to help students scaffold their communication abilities to higher levels of sophistication? How can teachers use writing to help students understand complex material and develop skills of critical inquiry in specialized fields? Such writing concepts are imbricated with disciplinary knowledge taught and learned in a specific course (see Adler-Kassner and Majewski, this volume). But first and foremost, threshold concepts about writing reflect a kind of metaknowledge that brings together fundamental principles of discipline-based communication with principles of writing instruction and support. This chapter explores the function of threshold concepts in writing across the curriculum. Complicating this exploration is the relationship between expert knowledge about writing—what faculty learn through repeated practice and slow enculturation into their fields— and expertise in the teaching or support of writing development, which is neither intuitive nor routinely introduced to most teachers in the disciplines. These two kinds of knowledge clearly overlap, but neither is sufficient alone to achieve hoped-for communication outcomes for student learning. Threshold Concepts in WAC: Faculty Deve l opme nt All threshold writing concepts are as relevant in courses and departments across the university as they are in centralized composition courses like first-year writing. However, faculty teaching in both discipline-based general education courses and courses in the major generally don’t think of themselves as teachers of writing. They confess that they lack what they see as specialized knowledge to teach writing—grammar and rhetorical analysis—and they worry about loss of content coverage if they spend too much time on writing (Lea and Street 1998). As a result, WAC leaders face special constraints that both limit and order the way they work threshold concepts into their outreach to these faculty colleagues. Overarching principles in the WAC literature abound, such as those presented by Elaine Maimon at a conference and summarized by David Russell (1997b): that writing is a complex process related to thinking; that writing helps students make connections; that WAC leads to other reforms in pedagogy, curriculum, and administration; and so on. But among all such principles, six appear so often in both the scholarly and instructional literature on WAC, and in WAC outreach, that they have risen to the level of threshold concepts, historically guiding the Crossing Thresholds   205 movement and activities within it. In operational terms, these concepts inform the movement by • defining writing as a disciplinary activity; • reconceptualizing the social and rhetorical nature of writing; • distinguishing between writing to learn and writing to communicate; • establishing shared goals and responsibilities for improvement...


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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