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Earlier this month, Macmillan released our book An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Stacey, Roy, and I have been responding to several questions since the book’s release about how to teach a WID-focused foundational writing course effectively. One of the questions I hear most often is:
How do you help writing teachers feel comfortable with teaching a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) course, especially when those instructors primarily come from English?
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of the challenges to teaching a WID approach is the faculty members’ comfort level with the approach. For many, it feels like a departure from what they are used to teaching in a writing course. But the first step to helping teachers feel comfortable with a WID approach is helping them draw on the strengths they already possess to help students analyze and understand writing in a variety of contexts. It’s just that in this case, the rhetorical contexts are academic, cross-disciplinary ones. The second step is providing solid, ongoing professional development to help them develop expertise that will strengthen what they’re doing in the course. In this blog post, I provide a few suggestions from an administrative perspective about how to begin taking those two steps.
DRAWING ON EXISTING STRENGTHS
One of the break-through moments for me as Roy, Stacey, and I wrote our textbook was realizing that the importance of close observation in academic inquiry provided a connection across disciplines. Observation is one of the cornerstones of much academic inquiry, including textual analysis, a practice nearly every teacher in English is familiar with. In literary studies, careful, critical observation is essential to close reading. In the sciences and social sciences, observation is essential for collecting primary data. Therefore, careful attention to observation and what it looks like as disciplinary inquiry can provide a common thread for teachers and students.
I try to encourage teachers to introduce students to a range of ways to observe texts, drawing on their existing strengths in critical inquiry and textual analysis. As students hone their observational powers, they can also be encouraged to think about how those skills of critical observation can transfer across disciplines and into other contexts.
BUILDING RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
Depending on the backgrounds and experience of the teachers in your writing program, a variety of ongoing professional development opportunities can help them continue to develop expertise in several areas:
- in academic writing to draw on real examples of writing in various disciplines
- in writing studies and rhetorical principles to help students practice rhetorical analysis of academic texts and ask important questions to understand disciplinary genres
- in transfer of knowledge to use the knowledge they are building in your course as they encounter writing in other academic and non-academic contexts.
The following list offers some suggestions for providing these kinds of opportunities:
- Start a reading group for teachers in your writing program where you can read and discuss current work on disciplinary writing, academic genres, and transfer of knowledge.
- Consider highlighting the work, writing, and research of faculty on your campus by incorporating their work into low-stakes and high-stakes assignments in your writing program or compiling a reader (online or in print) of faculty research to give examples of different disciplinary genres.
- Host a panel for your writing faculty where you invite faculty from other disciplines to talk about their writing and the writing they assign in their classes.
- Develop partnerships with faculty across disciplines. One of the most innovative I’ve seen is the SWAP program developed at North Carolina State University by Susanna Klingenberg to bring STEM graduate students into writing classes and writing faculty into STEM classes.
What are some other ideas you have about supporting faculty as they teach a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?
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