NOTE: Attempts have been made to contact the WAC Director Jonathan Hall, English professor at CUNY York College. As if this writing, Hall has not returned any e-mails. However, York College’s website provides ample amount of information on WAC, some of which is covered here. Enjoy! And, of course, we can’t begin without a visit from Calvin and Hobbes:
The Writing Across Curriculum program at CUNY York College began ten years ago. According to a review of the program since its conception, the CUNY Board of Trustees believed “the ability to write was important regardless of the discipline a student pursued” (3). Little has changed since the program began, with goals established in the following areas: curriculum, faculty development, student leaning, and the writing fellowships. Keep in mind, CUNY encompasses eighteen campuses–York College is just one campus among them. While an exclusive study of York College’s WAC program is the focus, the other colleges share York College’s goals and vice versa.
So, who’s over this thing?
Examining the review of CUNY’s ten-year review, discrepancy between who the WAC program reports to at each college. York College’s program reports directly to the dean of Arts and Sciences. That’s a huge contrast to the other colleges, most of which report to the Provost or an administrator working in the Provost’s Office. The report notes that deans do indeed report to the Provost, deans are not responsible for school-wide WAC implementation, and “this could potentially make the coordinators’ task more difficult in terms of embedding writing in the curriculum of schools where they have no formal reporting relation” (5-4).
However, the faculty and students operating the program represent various disciplines. The WAC committee is led by English professor Jonathan Hall, with four other faculty representing the sciences and performance arts. They work closely with CUNY Writing Fellows, “advanced graduate students from a wide array of disciplines enrolled at The CUNY Graduate Center, who develop and implement WAC activities and initiatives.” Specifically, these are doctorate students in programs from Sociology to Comparative Literature. In addition, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the College-Wide Writing Program help implement the WAC program on campus.
The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has an advisory board of deans, faculty, and administrators. According to their website, they must do the following:
- examine and reflect on teaching challenges in a supportive environment
- investigate and implement learning-centered teaching practices
- connect with colleagues across disciplines and departments about teaching issues and concern
- obtain support for conducting research and scholarship on teaching and learning
Meanwhile, the College-Wide Writing Program has set up writing intensive courses all juniors must complete and pass while creating additional classes for all classifications. There is a strong support from administrators, faculty, and graduate students across disciplines and create an even stronger program for students on campus. Even though the dean receives reports on the program and may have limited control over curriculum standards in other areas, the committee itself working with other departments seems to exercise that role.
That’s great. Now, how about their goals?
As stated above, CUNY has eighteen colleges, each with a goal(s) in curriculum, faculty development, student leaning, and the writing fellowships. The goals listed–broken into their own sections–should be taken in general and not necessarily specific to York College. Nevertheless, rest assure that some aspect of the goals described below, unless otherwise
noted, apply to York.
Two curriculum goals have come together on many campuses. One goal emphasizes faculty and department loyalty to teaching writing. The review explains “it was assumed that by increasing individuals’ knowledge about writing pedagogy and its effects on student learning, these instructors would be more likely to change classroom practices” (4). The second goal involves restructuring the graduation requirements. In other words, X number of writing intensive courses must be completed and passed. “The inclusion of such requirements in the curriculum,” the authors of the review explain, “would require departments and programs to offer the writing intensive courses students needed for graduation” (4). It’s great that many colleges have combined the two ideas–commitment to teaching writing and spelling out the graduation requirements. Combining the two increase the effectiveness of the program for students: students have highly qualified, serious teachers and an intense requirement hanging over their heads.
Faculty receive training in teaching writing; this increases the opportunities students have to take writing intensive courses in their field. The responsibility of professional development and student development falls on all departments, not just the English Department. Teachers may be certified writing instructors, but the WAC program provide training sessions for students who do not have certification. York College has a strong interest in promoting writing as intrinsic to liberal education.
This section reveals the interesting aspect of the WAC program: the focus is not on student development but “faculty development . . .” (22). The model assumes that
If faculty demonstrate effective writing, students will pick up their skills and become effective writers themselves. Not all schools at CUNY follow this strategy; eight colleges including York College encourage workshops and seminars for students. York College provides helpful links for students (style guides and infosheets, for example) though it is short and not extensive.
WAC Fellowships Goals
WAC Fellows are six doctorate students assigned to the school of their major. WAC Fellows increase their writing instruction expertise and establish strong relationships with faculty who will soon be their colleagues. The review makes a special note that these Fellows do not have total knowledge of writing pedagogy. For this reason, their education is solidified by WAC coordinators.
Connect graduation with writing classes
Each CUNY college have a different number of required writing intensive classes: According to the York College website, students must “complete (pass) English 125, three Writing Intensive (WI) courses, and Writing 301, 302, or 303.” English 125 introduce students to basic elements of writing: research, reading, and writing. The 300-level English courses are for juniors, where they “research and write a paper on a topic related to your major. You may choose Writing 301, 302, or 303 depending on what your major is.”
York College makes a distinction between the 300-level course and writing-intensive courses: The 300-level courses are “skills-based” and prepare students for writing-intensive courses. Meanwhile, the writing-intensive courses are based on content and writing is central to the classes. The WAC Terminology page extends the definition of writing-intensive: “A typical WI course will couple high-stakes writing to the low- and middle-stakes writing common in General Education courses designated as Writing Enhanced,” with middle-stakes testing bringing students to formal writing (reading response) and high-stakes bringing students to classical writing (research projects).
Visit the York College website for a full list of writing intensive courses offered in Spring 2011.
How do teachers assess writing?
York College uses a six-point rubric to assess students taking the placement exam: Critical Response to the Writing Task and Text, Development of Writer’s Ideas, Structure of the Response, Language Use: Sentences and Word Choice, and Language Use: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics. The higher the student scores in each area, the better their overall grade. Meanwhile, faculty who are “busy” can use an easy rubric and checklist . Unlike the rubric used for testing, this rubric assesses Thesis, Structure, Use of Evidence, Analysis, Logic and Argumentation, and Mechanics. Teachers are also given guidelines for responding student writing and help then improve their skills.
In addition, CUNY colleges may use three different models to assess writing on campus: Before and after studies, a sample work of a student’s independent work, and electronic portfolios.
Here it would be useful to note one interesting aspect of the WAC program: the focus is not on student development but “faculty development . . .” (22). The model assumes that the approach to teaching writing would transform, and after assessing the program, teachers should see student improvement (22). The authors of the review write, “How best to measure these impacts is the challenge facing WAC coordinators and Central Office.” The colleges use a variety of tools to measure the impact. York College counts the number of writing-intensive courses and connects it to the rate students pass the CPE (a test used to assess how prepared students are for “upper level courses” (24). In addition, faculty review the syllabi of writing-intensive courses to “monitor how writing is being taught and whether the courses meet the criteria established by campus policy-making bodies, such as academic senates or school faculty.” As described in the “Faculty Goals” section, the ability and effectiveness of writing instruction is used to increase student writing efficiency.
Is that all?
Is that all? No!
The York College website provides plenty of resources for both students and faculty. The WAC website provides useful information for students. In addition to listing the graduation requirements, students can access style guides for APA, MLA, and Chicago and several “infosheets” on writing a paper. These infosheets cover everything from organization to thesis development to plagiarism; visitors will find a total of 30 useful links.
While the program,then, focuses on teachers, it does not leave students in the dust. Students will also find infosheets and handouts made for specific disciplines, sociology, health, history, etc. Videos are also offered the cover many problems students face when writing, and while some videos might come off as corny, they are actually well-composed and provide useful information. Finally, there’s a long list of links for each content area that help students develop their paper.
What are your conclusions?
CUNY–York College in particular–offer students the chance to improve their writing through intense courses on all campuses; however, CUNY does not have a uniform program on all campuses–each college approaches implementation and assessment in its own way. However, the different approaches only reflects the independence each college has. Nevertheless, York College is a good example for a successful WAC program. It is not perfect, and program leaders know this. From the ten-year review, faculty and administrators list of improvements:
- The work with faculty around teaching practice needs to be linked more explicitly to student learning outcomes.
- The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment in Central Office should be involved with the development of an assessment of student writing that would provide cross campus comparisons (26-27).