Announcing: Funded opportunity to craft disciplinary teaching handbook.
Announcing Open Classroom Month, April 9-30th
Introductory courses give students a general overview of the field, an introduction to its “language” and terminology, and exposure to its core methods of inquiry. Students might not know what your course title (such as “World Humanities,” “Classical Cultures,” or “Social Communication”) means, and they might not have a working familiarity with the concept of academic disciplines, so it’s a good idea to be as clear and precise as possible in your course description and introductions. For instance, “US History Since 1865” is clearer than “US History II.” If your department dictates that you use a vaguer course title (such as “Composition I”), be sure that your syllabus clearly defines for students the themes and purpose of the course.
As the semester progresses, you will familiarize students with your field’s core/foundational texts, and help them develop an understanding of its basic terminologies and methodologies. Students should be exposed to how scholars in your field frame research questions, how scholarship is developed and applied, and what kinds of evidence and argument are deployed within the field. Should students desire to develop expertise in your discipline, they should have a sense by the end of their first course what kind of work will be necessary for them to develop that level of knowledge or skillset.
Pathways / Common Core
Many introductory courses fall within Pathways, a set of general education requirements that makes it easier for students to transfer credits from one CUNY college to another. Students at all CUNY colleges are required to take 30 Common Core credits (12 in required Common Course courses and 18 in the flexible Common Core). Students in bachelor degree programs have to take another 6 to 12 College Option credits. The individual colleges set the exact guidelines for this last part of the general education curriculum. CUNY has also designated certain courses as Gateway Courses into Majors. While major requirements often vary between the different colleges, students who anticipate majoring in a certain field can transfer the credits for these Gateway courses to another college/ major without problem.
When your course falls within a certain section of the Common Core, your department will usually give you a description of that Common Core area and the learning outcomes associated with it. You should familiarize yourself with these goals and outcomes and incorporate them in your course and syllabus design (some departments require you to copy the learning outcomes and provide a description of how the course fits within the Common Core framework).
Students taking general education classes are usually lower-level (freshman/ sophomore) though you’ll find some upper-level students in your class who still have to meet some general education requirements, especially when they have transferred from another school, came back from a break or have had a not-so linear trajectory for other reasons. You’ll find that students in CUNY classrooms are at widely varying stages of their academic career and this is even more visible in general education courses. Many lower-level students have not yet declared their majors and are exploring options or getting enough credits until they can apply for programs such as engineering or pre-med. This means that not all of your students will continue in the field you’re teaching them in, and are in a way “passing through.” For these students, transferable skills and more “enduring understandings” that they can take away from your course will be more important than discipline-specific knowledge and terminology. This is why many introductory level courses emphasize learning outcomes that can be broadly applicable.
In intermediate courses, which usually (though not always) require the completion of an introductory course as a prerequisite, students learn more about specific disciplinary approaches and subfields while getting more comfortable with the discipline as a whole. Building on their initial exposure to your field’s main terminologies and methodologies in the introductory courses, students in intermediate courses actively learn to speak your field’s “language” and employ its research strategies. One of the main goals of intermediate courses is for your students to become more confident speakers/participants in your discipline. Intermediate courses also introduce students to specific subfields and those fields’ core texts and conventions. Research projects are usually longer and more complex than in introductory courses, and students may be asked to write within the theoretical frameworks of the discipline.
Intermediate level courses usually have certain prerequisites, which means they presuppose that students have certain knowledge and skillsets, but this is not always the case. As we discuss in our New To Teaching Guide, it is always a good idea to bolster and review the information from the courses your students have taken before. Your course might also be cross-listed with another department or concentration, which means that your students are taking your course to fulfill the requirements of another major or certificate program. A course called “Literature of the Harlem Renaissance,” for example, could be cross-listed between African-American Studies, history, and English programs. Knowing where your course fits in the larger curriculum will help you tailor your instruction to your students’ academic backgrounds and help them prepare for upper level courses in their concentration.
Upper Level Courses
In upper level courses, such as capstone or senior thesis classes, students become semi-professionalized as members of the discipline and are expected to demonstrate the ability to put the things they’ve learned in the previous two levels into practice. As confident participants in their discipline, students can now become more conscious of the constructedness of these conventions and possible alternatives. In larger research assignments, such as capstone or thesis projects, they can be expected to intervene, to a certain extent, in a discipline’s dominant methodology, challenge assumptions, or contribute new information.
While there is a difference between students’ trajectories and skill level at the senior colleges versus the community colleges, second year students at CUNY’s community colleges take capstone classes as well, which can be considered upper level courses. Taking into account that community college students often take non-linear trajectories toward such upper level capstone classes, it’s important to find a balance between offering support and guidance on how to do research while asking them to perform a larger projects on their own or in small groups.
Ideally, your students’ work can find relevance or (potential for) publication outside of your classroom, and you can introduce them to ways in which their class work is or can be made relevant elsewhere. You can encourage and assist them in submitting an abstract for a conference or assist them in preparing work for publication. It is important for your students to know how the skills and experience they’ve gained in their major translates to the job market. You want to show your students how their skills are transferable to a variety of professional contexts and that their experience is valuable outside of your classroom. Creating links with the world outside the classroom is very important at any time in your students’ academic careers but especially now that they are getting ready for the job market and/or looking to apply what they’ve learned elsewhere.
At the core of WAC pedagogy lies the idea that learning to write and writing to learn are equally important. In other words, continuous writing practice helps students to both improve their writing skills and better understand course material. WAC approaches writing not merely as a communication skill but also as a process and product of critical thinking. When you present students with problems and ask them to identify and challenge assumptions in writing, writing itself becomes an act of problem solving. As John Bean explains in Engaging Ideas, one of the foundational texts of WAC pedagogy, rather than asking “Is the writing clear,” you also want to ask “Is the writing interesting? Does it show a mind actively engaged with the problem? Does it bring something new to readers? Does it make an argument?” This type of writing asks students to think about rhetorical problems, such as audience, purpose, and tone, and recognizes writing as a messy process that requires drafting and revising. In such an active, inquiry-based learning environment student engagement and learning dramatically improves.
In an overview of the history of WAC, David Russell points out that cross-curricular writing plays an essential role in providing access to the academic and professional world, which is especially relevant at a university like CUNY:
In a very real sense, education is initiation into a discourse community, a process of learning how to use language in a certain way to become accepted, literate, or, as is often the case in American higher education, credentialed in some profession.
Writing in the Disciplines builds upon WAC’s underlying philosophy that writing is not simply a matter of prior instruction, aptitude, or intelligence, or a single, universally applicable skill that is learned in high school or English 101 classes. WID’s focus is on discipline-specific writing instruction as it recognizes that student success largely depends on the ability to use the discourse of a specific academic or professional field. For more info, see the WID section below.
As a Writing Fellow, you will often be working on faculty development. Rather than teaching a class yourself, you will be assisting a faculty member to integrate WAC strategies into the classroom. Or you will be giving workshops for faculty at your college. For many Fellows this is the first time they’re working with other faculty members on course development, and this might feel like an uncomfortable situation. You might feel insecure thinking you have to advise faculty, who are often more senior than you, on how to teach.
Rather than seeing it this way, you want to regard WAC collaboration as dialogic and communal: you’re thinking through problems and coming up with new approaches together, not imposing them on someone else’s teaching practice. Together with a faculty member, you’re coming up with ways to integrate writing in a course, improve assignments, or find new teaching tools. Doing this, you both benefit from each other’s experience and ideas, which will improve teaching and learning overall.
Depending on your specific duties as a Writing Fellow, you may work with faculty on your campus to do the following:
- draft informal, “low-stakes” writing exercises
- draft sequenced and scaffolded writing exercises leading up to a formal, “high-stakes” essay assignment
- build in revision and feedback of writing exercises
- create ways for students to reflect on their learning processes
- find effective forms of responding to and assessing writing assignments
- develop strategies to discourage plagiarism
- develop strategies to work with ELL students
- develop ways to teach discipline-specific writing guidelines
The CUNY-wide WAC Fellows professional development series and WAC programs at your campus will give you background and resources on these and other WAC concepts and tell you how their college works with WAC principles. For more details on some of the core concepts, such as low-stakes writing, scaffolding, and responding to writing, see our next section on Core Teaching Strategies.
Core Teaching Strategies
Peter Elbow describes the uses and benefits of frequent low-stakes writing exercises in this article. Such writing, often in the form of freewriting, letters, journal or notebook entries, makes students think about and understand course material and their own responses to it. According to Elbow, it is the perfect place for students to translate their nonverbal knowing into verbal knowing, as they can “fumble and fish for words for what they sense and intuit but cannot yet clearly say” (6). These kinds of assignments are not graded and often quickly read by the instructor, mostly to gauge the students’ thought processes and their responses to their teaching.
Integrating low-stakes exercises into the curriculum can increase student engagement, keep them on track with readings and prepare them for the more formal and higher-stakes assignments later on in the semester. These assignments can also help students find their own language to think through the issues the course raises. Low-stakes assignments can help students get in the habit of writing prose that’s clear, alive, and natural, preventing contrived and tangled language in follow-up exercises.
It is important to acknowledge that the mere presence low-stakes writing exercises does not guarantee that your students learn and write better. One of the key things here is to understand why you ask your students to do such exercises. You want to be clear about their purpose both to yourself and to your students, and cultivate these newly-acquired skills through attentive teaching. When you discuss a complex theoretical concept, for example, you might ask your students to put it in their own words or apply it to their personal lives so that it becomes more tangible. You can ask them to freewrite for a few minutes before starting a discussion to improve the quality of their contributions. As another example, you can ask your students to write two short letters, one to a friend and one to a professor, so that they become aware of audience and tone. Finally, you can ask students to summarize what they learned in a short freewrite during the last five minutes of class. They can then use this to study for an exam.
Another key WAC practice is the scaffolding of larger assignments. Starting with short, low-stakes exercises and building up to a lengthier more formal (research) essay or final project gives both instructor and students many important moments of revision and feedback. You can make sure your students stay on track with their work and improve along the way. For many students, especially those who are not familiar with what goes into larger academic assignments, it is very important to show the structure and process of completing larger projects. Modeling this for them helps them tackle capstone or thesis work later on.
Sequencing larger, otherwise overwhelming assignments into manageable building blocks also opens up the learning process to both instructor and student. Sharing drafts (of reading and writing) with peers and instructor, giving and responding to feedback, writing and rewriting, students see and can reflect on their own learning processes, and, ideally, learn from their own learning. This form of learning, or meta-learning, takes places when students become conscious of how they learn. Focusing on this in your teaching will give your students the tools to become better learners as they understand what works and doesn’t work for them. Simple ways to do this is to ask students to submit a short note with an assignment in which they describe how it went. It will help you respond more constructively to student work when you know they were struggling formulating their argument or synthesizing material, or when they were happy about their improvements in clarity and style.
Responding to Student Writing
One of the challenges for many instructors is responding to and grading a larger and sometimes overwhelming amount of student writing. Also, research shows that there is a tremendous amount of miscommunication between instructors commenting on written work and students interpreting these comments. How can we grade more efficiently? And how can we make sure that our comments actually make students learn more and write better? These are questions WAC tries to answer. Instructors often write comments fast, in a hurry, and maybe not always in the best mood, and students tend to see any form of criticism as negative criticism.
To address this, instructors can use different levels of responding in the same way they vary the stakes of writing exercises (see Elbow 8-9). A low-stakes exercise may require zero response. Minimal, non-verbal, non-critical response (simply underlining strong passages) works well for middle-stakes exercises. High stakes writing demands more critical response, diagnosis, and advice. It is important to not feel guilty about not commenting on every exercise, and to mix different levels of response. Responding to content is not the same as editing or proofreading. And it is always a matter of giving supportive response, of reinforcing what a student is already doing right instead of criticizing what he/she is doing wrong.
One of the main objectives of Writing in the Disciplines is to teach students to not just have passive subject matter knowledge of a discipline but to become active participants in its discourse community. To speak with “expert insider prose” (MacDonald in Bean xii) in their majors, students need conscious, discipline-specific writing instruction. Students have to learn how to speak within a disciplinary conversation, and to do so they have to know the discipline’s genre conventions, method of argument, typical kinds of evidence, ways of referencing other researchers, and typical rhetorical contexts and audiences (Beaufort in Bean 3).
This is not to say that you want to mute students’ own voices but that academic disciplines, and professional fields too, are discourse communities that students should be given access to and learn to participate in. As such, discipline-specific writing instruction will not only help students learn better but also increase their success later on.
Below are some ideas on how to integrate writing and active learning into humanities, social science, and science classrooms.
WID in the Humanities and Social Sciences
Most humanities and social science courses already require a great deal of writing, mostly in the form of final research papers, reports, group projects, translations or ethnographies. Since these type of assignments can be overwhelming to students, especially those who haven’t been taken through the steps of a larger project before, it is always smart to scaffold such writing and bring in low- and middle-stakes exercises. You can for example ask students to keep a journal when doing the readings for class, write down questions for class discussion, or possible paper topics.
In literature classes, you can ask students to annotate a text and have them share their notes in groups before writing a short response. When you’re dealing with complex literary or theoretical terms, it is a good idea to ask students to define in a few sentences what something means. Such exercises can take just a few minutes of class time, usually reinvigorate the discussion afterward, and show students what they have or haven’t grasped yet. For language classes you can ask students to write a personal essay on the role of language in their home environment or their neighborhood. Sociology and anthropology students can benefit from taking field notes or jotting down a certain number of observations about a specific place.
You want to get students to start thinking while they’re writing, while also introducing them to the conventions and terminology of your discipline. Remember that you have been part of this discipline for a while and that what comes naturally to you might be new to your students. When you consciously employ writing exercises and other strategies to help your students enter your discipline, their engagement will deepen.
WID in the Sciences
There are various ways in which you can integrate writing into science courses. A quick and simple way is to ask students to briefly explain a scientific concept in their own words. You can do this short, five-minute exercise at the end of class to see if they understood the material or you can start with it to gauge how strong of a grasp they have on the readings for that day. This can open up questions and help direct your teaching.
For medium-stakes writing assignments you can ask students to write about their work in a mock setting, such as a science or healthcare company. You can ask them to write a memo to the board of directors, for example, or a press release, which requires them to carefully consider audience, purpose, and tone. Alternatively, you can ask students to reflect on their understanding of concepts before and after taking your course. This shows them how they now think as “scientists” and makes them conscious of their own learning process.
Below are sample exercises from previous WAC Fellows (from Assignment Scaffolding and Strategies for Assigning Composition):
In-Class Student Writing / Low-stakes Exercises
Brief periods (2-5 minutes) of silent, uninterrupted writing in the classroom. (Can double as a means to take attendance.)
- A question provided at the beginning of class can serve to review material from the previous session, verify completion of the day’s assigned reading, or encourage speculation on a new topic to prime in-class discussion.
- Focused writing during the class period can provide a forum to cool a heated discussion, to stimulate ideas when discussion is lagging, or to summarize (or express confusion about) challenging new information.
- A very brief writing period (a minute or two) at the end of class can encourage students to sum up what they have just learned or pose questions that need further clarification, either in the next session or in their own outside reading.
- Students write for a set period of time (such as 10 or 15 minutes) to answer a course-related question. Such questions may ask students to analyze/interpret material, clarify similarities and differences, pose an opinion in agreement or disagreement, or ask students to relate course material to contemporary issues and current affairs.
- Writing assignments can provide a stimulus for in-class discussion.
- Focused freewriting can be aimed toward exploring all sides of an issue prior to developing a thesis and writing a final paper on that topic. In this case several freewriting questions would be posed on a topic over time to encourage lengthy engaged inquiry into it.
- Freewriting can also be assigned without a specific question or prompt. In this case, students pose and answer their own course-related questions. This can help them come up with topics for research papers later on or be of use when studying for an exam.
- A dual-entry notebook can promote the pairing of observation and analysis. The student may observe visual information (such as a lab experiment or a work of art), research presented in a scholarly article, etc. on the left side of the page. The observation would then be paired with mental process on the right side of the page in the form of a hypothesis regarding the reason for the observed phenomenon or an argument for or against the accuracy of the presented information based on ideas read elsewhere or presented in class.
- Creative writing such as imagined dialogues between writers, researchers, historical figures, characters, etc. can provide a light-hearted way of engaging deeply with course content.
Instead of simply saying that a formal paper is due on a certain date, break it up into steps which will allow students to link the learning of writing to the modes of inquiry and discovery in your discipline. The goal is to get students personally engaged with the kinds of questions that propel writers through the writing process, so that it becomes a powerful means of learning in the discipline.
- Assign Low-Stakes Writing first to give your students the opportunity to develop their ideas and concepts prior to their first attempts at writing their essay.
- In one LSW assignment, have students brainstorm topics. Return them with notes and suggestions.
- In another, have students brainstorm topics and Thesis Statements drafts.Return to them with notes.
- Once you’ve approved paper topics and thesis statements, formally assign the paper with a typed Assignment Handout.
- Return the paper with revision-oriented feedback.
- Collect revised drafts.
*There is no one way to scaffold an assignment. Rather than asking for an outline, you might consider asking for one or more of the following items:
- A prospectus, in which the student is asked to describe the problem that will be addressed and the direction that the student intends to take.
- An effectively designed prospectus assignment can guide students toward a problem-thesis structure and steer them away from writing which lacks focus or strong reasoning.
- For shorter papers, students can be asked to submit two sentences: a one-sentence question that summarizes the problem the paper addresses and a one-sentence thesis statement that summarizes the writer’s argument in response to the question.
- A 100 to 200-word abstract of their drafts can be an alternative to asking for question-plus-thesis summaries. The act of summarizing one’s own argument helps writers clarify their own thinking and often reveals organizational and conceptual problems that prompt revision.
The WAC/WID and QR Guide:
Modeled after the Writing Fellows program, CUNY recently initiated a Quantitative Reasoning Fellows program. This program places doctoral students at select CUNY campuses to support efforts to improve quantitative reasoning across the curriculum. Quantitative Reasoning (QR) is the application of mathematical thought and knowledge to authentic, everyday issues. Sometimes called quantitative literacy, QR is demonstrated by the inclination and ability to make reasoned decisions using fundamental mathematics. Quantitative reasoning skills are widely recognized as critical to academic success across the curriculum, as well as to broader goals related to personal and career development, and informed citizenry.
Application and Appointment
This QR Fellowship is awarded to a select group of doctoral candidates with strong quantitative expertise. The central responsibility of QR Fellows is to support efforts to strengthen mathematical and quantitative reasoning education outside of conventional mathematics courses by developing resources and supporting faculty initiatives. QR Fellows may offer workshops, conduct seminars / webinars, support faculty to develop materials, or serve as tutors for students in targeted courses. They may work in Math Centers, collect and analyze data, develop electronic tools, or provide support for using software tools used in quantitative and statistical models.
QRF on the Job Market
Graduate students can greatly benefit from their experiences as Quantitative Research Fellows. Working closely with faculty to improve mathematical and quantitative reasoning instruction gives you very useful experience when you go on the job market. As QR Fellows, you contribute to CUNY’s overall commitment to public service, and show experience and interest in improving teaching and learning in thorough and innovative ways.
The skills you develop during your time as a QR Fellow can transfer to both academic and alt-ac careers and translate to your own teaching and scholarship. Your knowledge of QR pedagogy and experience with faculty development is a great asset when you go on the job market. Here are some of the skills that you can highlight as a former QR Fellow:
- knowledge of and experience implementing QR principles
- understanding of mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills as essential to student success and careers outside the academy
- experience with faculty development and collaboration
- experience with curriculum design and development
- record of attentive and student-driven teaching practice
- insight into academic processes and committee work
- experience integrating educational technology to improve QR instruction
Sample Quantitative Reasoning Exercises, to come
The WAC/WID and QR Guide:
Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is a pedagogical movement that began in the early 1970s. Following the dramatic rise of student enrollment after World War II and the protests of the 1960s, universities needed to evolve to accommodate a new generation of students, one that was more diverse in background and socioeconomic position than previous generations. WAC pedagogues recognized that cross-curricular writing instruction plays an essential role in giving all students access to the academic and professional world. And they saw that student success depends on their ability to use the discourse of the discipline in which they are seeking a career.
At the start of the same decade, in the Spring of 1970, CUNY had adopted an admissions policy that guaranteed every resident a place in one of its eighteen tuition-free colleges (ten senior colleges and eight two-year colleges). In one of the boldest and earliest attempts at a comprehensive higher education system, CUNY opened its doors to a significantly larger number of students, and its classrooms changed. Many new students needed to improve their basic academic skills in order to successfully navigate college curricula. The pioneering work of Mina Shaughnessy to integrate and improve (basic) writing instruction across CUNY was of crucial importance during this period, and at CUNY her work still in many ways informs WAC pedagogy.
Writing Across the Curriculum values writing as an essential method of learning and strives to integrate writing instruction across the disciplines and throughout a student’s undergraduate career. Writing in the Disciplines (WID) is closely linked to WAC. Its main idea is that students benefit from learning discipline-specific writing conventions. The CUNY Writing Fellows Program began at CUNY in 1999 with a Board of Trustees Resolution endorsing “the centrality of writing to a university education and calling for the integration of writing across the curriculum.”
The CUNY Writing Fellows program employs CUNY doctoral students to support efforts to improve writing at the campuses. Students with Graduate Center Fellowships (GCFs) work as WAC Writing Fellows in their fifth year of graduate study.
Application Process and Appointment
The application process for ECFs starts in the Fall semester of the fourth year. All CUNY undergraduate colleges participate in the program, as well as two professional schools. Each year there are six WAC positions at each undergraduate college, four at Guttman Community College, three at the CUNY School of Law, and four at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. WAC Coordinators at the colleges conduct interviews in the Spring semester, after which the Provost’s Office informs students of their WAC college placement around the end of April.
Each CUNY campus’ WAC program supports writing instruction in various ways. Generally, WAC programs work to expand the role of writing in the General Education curriculum and help faculty develop Writing Intensive (WI) courses or assist in syllabus and assignment design. They also offer workshops and provide faculty with useful resources, and work closely with Writing Centers and Centers for Teaching and Learning.
WAC Fellows are appointed under the PSC-CUNY contract in the title of “Graduate Assistant B” (GAB). As a WAC Fellow, your primary commitments are to your duties as a WAC Fellow (450 hours or approximately 15 hours per week each semester) and to your academic work as a doctoral student.
There are two complementary components of the WAC Fellowship: first, you work at your assigned campus to advance its WAC initiative. Second, you participate in a year-long CUNY-wide professional development series, as well as in a variety of professional development activities at your campus.
The CUNY-wide WAC Fellows professional development series periodically draws all Fellows and Coordinators together for workshops, panel discussions, and special presentations. The first meeting of the year takes place at the end of August and introduces you to the essentials of WAC pedagogy. Besides professional development, the series creates community and provides a forum for the exploration of teaching and learning, with a focus on expanding WAC pedagogies. Recent series events have focused on the assessment of student writing and online tools for teaching and learning.
The WAC Resource Center on CUNY Academic Commons brings together all Writing Fellows and has many useful links and resources.
WAC on the Job Market
Doctoral students can greatly benefit from their experiences as Writing Fellows. Working closely with faculty and going through a high-quality professional development program in WAC pedagogy gives you very useful experience when you go on the job market. As a Writing Fellow, you contribute to CUNY’s overall commitment to public service, and show experience and interest in improving teaching and learning in thorough and innovative ways.
The skills you develop during your time as a Writing Fellow can transfer to both academic and alt-ac careers and translate to your own teaching and scholarship. Your knowledge of WAC pedagogy and experience with faculty development is a great asset when you go on the job market. Here are some of the skills that you can highlight as a former Writing Fellow:
- knowledge of and experience implementing WAC principles
- understanding of writing as a situational practice essential to student success and careers outside the academy
- experience with faculty development and collaboration
- experience with curriculum design and development
- record of attentive and student-driven teaching practice
- insight into academic processes and committee work
- experience integrating educational technology to improve writing instruction
What you gain from your experience as a Writing Fellow depends on your specific duties at your campus, but your main takeaway should be an active engagement with the processes of teaching and learning and a commitment to continuously reflect on, evaluate, and improve your own teaching and, doing so, contribute to improving (public) higher education as a whole.
The WAC/WID and QR Guide:
Contact Info for WAC Coordinators:
WAC @ CUNY
This site contains links to Writing/QR Fellows job descriptions for each college, WAC at CUNY 10-year review, and founding documents (1999 Board Resolution).
Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College, Queensborough Community College, Guttman Community College, Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College.
Resources / Readings
- Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. One of the foundational books on WAC, this is a great introduction to WAC pedagogy with many sample exercises and suggestions on how to integrate WAC into your classroom.
- Elbow, Peter. “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 69 (1997). This article describes the importance of assigning low- and middle stakes writing assignments and gives tips on how to respond to what may feel like an insurmountable amount of student writing.
- Russell, David R. “Writing across the Curriculum in Historical Perspective: Toward a Social Interpretation.” College English 52.1 (1990). This article gives an overview of writing instruction at American universities and link WAC to previous attempts to improve writing instruction across the curriculum and to Great Works programs and the General Education curriculum.
- Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. (1977). In this seminal work, Shaughnessy explores the writing problems of underprepared freshmen and offers solutions on how to teach basic writing.
- WAC Clearinghouse: A National Journal for Writing Across the Curriculum This is a great resource for all things WAC. The WAC-journal is an annual collection of articles by educators about their WAC ideas and experiences.
For more information please visit the WAC Resource Center on CUNY Academic Commons. Here you will find links to core WAC resources, many of which you will read for the WAC professional development series.
For more information on the Quantitative Reasoning Fellowship, please click here for the QRF group on CUNY Academic Commons
The WAC/WID and QR Guide:
Introductory courses in the STEM field generally offer a very broad introduction to the field as a whole, and are likely to contain both a theory and lab component (often larger lecture classes break out into small lab sections under a TA or co-instructor). Introductory science courses, which often have course titles such as “General Chemistry I,” “General Physics I,” or “Biological Foundations,” familiarize students with the objectives, methods, history, and language of the field and serve as prerequisites for the discipline’s next set of courses (“General Chemistry II,” General Physics II,” etc.). Since science courses generally require a more precise set of pre-acquired skills and knowledge, they often follow a stricter trajectory of prerequisites. Even introductory courses, such as Calculus I or Algebra I, might require students to take a pre-calculus or pre-algebra course if they haven’t taken such courses in high school or do not meet a minimum score on a placement test. Many introductory science courses are as oriented towards non-majors as towards majors, and possess the goal of nurturing in their students an understanding of various approaches to the sciences that can be useful knowledge no matter what field one goes on in.
Similarly, students enrolling in intermediate science courses most likely have had to take prerequisite courses in the same field, yet, again, this does not mean that all that information is still readily available (we all know what a long summer break does to our brains). Reviewing and reinforcing material from previous courses does very well at this stage, as does further practice in research, especially when empirical evidence and lab work is at the core of the discipline. Students in the sciences generally take a few courses from across the different disciplines–a chemistry student might also take a few courses in computer science, for example, and a biology major might take courses in physics and kinesiology. It can be great to bring these skills into your classroom: allowing your students to combine disciplines in a longer research project, for example, will boost their engagement and make it easier for them to find their specialty going into the upper level courses.
Upper level science courses continue to bolster students’ knowledge and research skills while also familiarizing them with their field’s conventions for sharing and possibly publishing their results. Exposure to interesting or current research (bringing in a recent publication from a major journal, for example) is a great way to connect your students’ work to recent developments in the field, and projects that ask students to find solutions to real-world problems are an ideal way to bridge the gap between the college classroom and the world outside. Ideally, you want to make your students’ work relevant and applicable at all times, by designing such “real-world scenarios” and problem-solving assignments, for example, but doing so at this stage of your students’ careers is especially important. Often, students majoring in the sciences complete Individual Study or a Capstone/Thesis project with one or several faculty members before graduating, for which they read a number of key publications in their (sub-)field and complete an individual research project.
Sample Student Trajectories
A Math Major @ Brooklyn College
Intro: MATH 101 Problem Solving for College Mathematics
MATH 120 Calculus I
MATH 120 Calculus II
Intermediate: MATH 210 Linear Algebra I
MATH 220 Multivariable Calculus
MATH 200 Transition to Advanced Mathematics
MATH 310 Abstract Algebra I
MATH 350 Introduction to Probability and Statistics
Upper level: MATH 420 Advanced Calculus I
MATH 410 Linear Algebra II
MATH 410 Abstract Algebra II
MATH 450 Probability
MATH 500 Independent Study
A Biology Major @ Queens College
Intro: BIO 105 General Biology: Physiology and Cell Biology
BIO 106 General Biology: Life Forms and Ecosystems
CHEM 114 General Chemistry I
CHEM 115 General Chemistry II
CHEM 102 Basic Organic Chemistry
MATH 151 Calculus I
Intermediate: BIO 285 Principles of Genetics
BIO 287 Principles of Evolutionary Biology
BIO 230 Biostatistics
BIO 245 Evolution and Culture
BIO 251 Genetics Laboratory
Upper level: BIO 350 Molecular Genetics
BIO 352 Anthropological Genomics (cross-listed with Anthropology)
BIO 585 Genetics (Graduate course open to upper level students)
An Environmental Science Major @ Lehman College
Intro: ENV 210 Introduction to Environmental Science
ENV 211 Introduction to Environmental Science Laboratory
ENV 235 Conservation of the Environment
ENV 255 Regional Topics and Field Methods in Environmental Sciences
ENV 270 Environmental Pollution
Intermediate: ENV 326 Environmental Policy
ENV 330 Environmental Impact Assessment
Upper level: ENV 420 Natural Resource Management: Senior Seminar
Resources and Sample Materials
Introductory courses in the social sciences expose students to foundational texts, theories, as well as research methods, very much like humanities courses do. However, unlike the humanities, which tends to favor qualitative research methods, the social sciences use a range of methods, both qualitative and quantitative. Varying slightly depending on the discipline, introductory courses in the social sciences can include instruction on data collection and statistical analysis, and on interviewing, ethnographic observation, and textual analysis. Students might practice designing, administering, and evaluating surveys or other questionnaires, or work with an existing set of data.
Many disciplines in the social sciences offer two types of introductory courses: those that survey key texts and themes and those that instruct students in doing statistical research.
Intermediate courses in the social sciences also offer a blend of instruction in qualitative and quantitative research methods, often depending on the sub-field or specialization. Certain courses in sociology, for example, might revolve entirely around texts and theories in critical theory, or marxist or feminist theory, while others ask students to gather and analyze data sets. Intermediate courses in political science or media studies might focus on reading and discussion of (theoretical) texts, while a discipline like psychology may at this point focus on bolstering students’ statistical research skills. Since intermediate courses in the social sciences cover such a wide variety of topics and methods, it becomes even more important to develop familiarity with your students’ existing knowledge and skillset. And it is always a good idea to give them the tools to catch up on their own, especially when it concerns a research method or data analysis program you use.
Upper level courses in the social sciences allow students to specialize in a certain sub-field and complete longer and more thorough research projects by themselves. At this point, students have generally chosen a specialty or track and are expected to be familiar with the research methods needed in that particular field (though this doesn’t mean they no longer need support doing their own research). Students in cultural anthropology, for example, know and will be able to build on their previous practice in ethnographic note-taking, while students in education will be able to locate, collect, and evaluate data on school performance by themselves. Still, it is important to make sure that your students have the necessary tools to perform the research, since many do not take a linear trajectory toward upper level coursework.
Upper level courses also ask students to critically evaluate and draw conclusions from their research that are meaningful within the larger context of the discipline, which is why you may want to gear your instruction to building that connection between their research outcomes and the broader discipline, and ideally also create a bridge to the world outside the classroom. This allows your students to see the relevance and applicability of their discipline and the skills it has given them.
Sample Student Trajectories
A Psychology Major @ Baruch
Intro: PSY 100 General Psychology
STA 210 Statistics for Social Science
Intermediate: PSY 300 Research Methods in Psychology
PSY 305 Developmental Psychology: Personality in Childhood and Adolescence
PSY 306 Psychology of Motivation and Learning
PSY 308 Cognitive Psychology
Upper level: PSY 401 Evolution of Modern Psychology
PSY 405 Psychology of the Family
PSY 408 Sensation and Perception
PSY 500 Independent Study
A Political Science Major @ BMCC
Intro: POL 100 American Government
POL 110 Introduction to Politics
POL 151 Politics of Puerto Rican Communities (cross-listed with Latin American Studies)
POL 152 Modern Black Political Thought (cross-listed with African-American Studies)
Intermediate: POL 210 World Politics
POL 220 Politics and Government in New York City
POL 230 Power in American Politics
POL 260 Political Theory
Upper level: POL 476 Thinking with the Greeks
A Labor Studies Major with Urban Studies Specialization @ Queens College
Intro: (100) Introduction to Labor Studies
(100) Introductory Economics (Macroeconomics)
(100) Urban Issues: Poverty and Affluence
Intermediate: (200) Labor Unions and Industrial Relations
(200) American Labor History from World War I to the Present
(200) Methods in Urban Research
Upper level: (300) Perspectives on the Labor Movement
(300) Urban Studies: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Urban America
Resources and Sample Teaching Materials
Introductory courses in the humanities generally familiarize students with the field’s terminology and expose them to key texts. Literature courses, for example, ask students to identify themes, motifs, metaphor and symbolism, and cover plot structure, character development, genre and style. Required Pathways courses such as “Great Works of Literature” or “World Humanities” expose students to a wide variety of literary works while familiarizing them with the terminology and methods of literary research and the humanities more broadly.
Similarly, introductory courses in history cover a selection of important time periods or events and introduce students to historical research methods. Courses such as “The United States: Origins to 1877” or “The United States since 1865” survey a specific time and place, while courses such as “Themes in Global History to 1500” and “Themes in Global History after 1500” focus on a selection of important themes in history. All of these courses teach students how to read historical texts and introduce them to historical research, and they will most likely include instruction on how to locate, analyze, and evaluate primary as well as secondary sources. Research projects might still be guided; as an instructor, you might give students a list of topics and selection of secondary sources to work with and assist them in doing library research.
Building on the introductory courses, intermediate courses do two things: they reinforce the foundational knowledge and skills of the introductory courses (some of which are prerequisites), and expose students to sub-fields. English majors will, for example, be able to take courses in Shakespeare, Greek Tragedy, The Twentieth Century Novel, or Literary Criticism. History majors will be able to take courses on, for example, the Ottoman Empire, the US South, or Colonial Latin America. As students are becoming more knowledgeable in these areas, they will also complete an individual and usually longer research project that asks them to select a topic and find, locate, and evaluate primary and secondary sources themselves. Doing this, they learn to move and speak within their discipline more independently and more confidently.
Upper level courses in the humanities give students the tools to become experts in certain sub-fields and the ability to critically evaluate the field and its methodologies as a whole. An English major, for example, will be able to specialize in contemporary African-American literature and understand the area’s history and place within the larger discipline of American literature. Upper level history courses will give students in-depth knowledge of a particular time, theme, or event, and ask them to do original research in that area so that they can possibly contribute to existing knowledge.
Other disciplines, for example philosophy, art history, theatre, classics, music, and area studies, all follow roughly the same trajectory of introductory, intermediate, and upper level courses. Below are a few sample tracks for students majoring in English at City College and Cinema Studies at The College of Staten Island. If you want to know more about the course you’re going to teach and how it fits in your students’ Pathways, major, or minor trajectory, ask the department where you teach and check their major/minor requirements and course listings.
Sample Student Trajectories
The sample trajectories below give you an idea of what a student’s path might look like. Keep in mind that students take many other courses as well, from required Pathways courses to upper level electives (many majors require students to take a minimum number of electives). Students’ trajectories are often less linear than the ones described below: many students take a wide variety of classes before declaring their major, transfer in from other colleges, or double-major. All students also complete a minor in a field different from and not necessarily related to their major.
An English Major @ City College
Introductory: (100) World Humanities
(200) Introduction to Literary Studies
(200) Studies in Genre: Novel
Intermediate: (200) Literature of Diversity: Harlem Renaissance
(300) Toni Morrison
(300) Representative US Writers: 20th Century
Upper Level: (400): Advanced Topics in African-American Literature: James Baldwin and the Tradition of Black/Queer Literature
(400) Advanced Topics in American Literature: Immigrant Literature
(400) Capstone: The Novel Now: Contemporary Fiction
A Cinema Studies Major @ College of Staten Island
Introductory: (100) Introduction to Film
Intermediate: (200) Film Theory
(200) Politics, Cinema, and Media
(200) Women and Film (cross-listed with Women’s Studies)
(300) Screen Adaptations
Upper Level: (400) French Directors after 1960
(400) Postwar Italian Cinema (cross-listed with Italian Studies)
Resources and Sample Teaching Materials