WAC in K-12 Settings

While the formal use of WAC in K-12 settings has been less pervasive than in colleges and universities, it has shown similar staying power and has proven to be an essential tool for preparing K-12 students for careers and college. WAC existed in the schools long before any formal K-12 WAC programs were established, especially in elementary schools where cross-curricular courses were taught in self-contained classrooms and teachers used writing in a variety of subjects. Once formal WAC programs were launched, however, they typically followed the higher education-based initiatives of the 1970s, and were influenced by reform movements in public education such as "open school" concepts and efforts to make education more student-centered. Research studies in addition to Britton's (1978), such as those conducted by Janet Emig (1971, 1977), as well as leaders within the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), had begun to consider how best to apply WAC concepts in K-12 classrooms. Also, in the 1980s secondary school teachers were reading Donald Murray's "Writing as Process: How Writing Finds Its Own Meaning" (1980) and Write to Learn (1984). Between whole language programs (Goodman, 1982) and Nancie Atwell's In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents (1987), elementary and middle school educators began to see writing as important in more than language arts classrooms.

Video: Chris Thaiss discusses the role his work with the National Writing Project—and K-12 more generally—played in his work with WAC. View the video at https://youtu.be/SxRcuhkQzoc.

The National Writing Project (NWP), which began in 1973 as the Bay Area Writing Project, also had a profound impact on educators at all academic levels. The original purpose of the NWP was to co-construct a knowledge base for the teaching of writing by involving cross-disciplinary teachers of all academic levels. In 1982, James Gray, founder of the NWP, collaborated with the American Association for School Administrators to publish Teaching Writing: Problems and Solutions (Neill, 1982), a precursor to NWP's Because Writing Matters (Nagin, 2003) and The Neglected R: The Need for a Writing Revolution (The National Commission on Writing in Our Schools and Colleges, 2003). Working with the National Writing Project in Northern Virginia, Chris Thaiss explored connections between his work with K-12 teachers and WAC. This work, in combination with other partnerships between early WAC programs and K-12 educators, led NCTE to sponsor a series of two-day post-conference workshops at its annual convention. One of the first workshops, held in 1983, brought together a WAC team from Michigan Tech with secondary school WAC leaders such as Pam Farrell (later Pam Childers). The work emerging from these early efforts led to publications such as Roots in the Sawdust: Writing to Learn across the Disciplines (Gere, 1985), Language Across the Curriculum in the Elementary Grades (Thaiss, 1986), and The High School Writing Center: Establishing and Maintaining One (Farrell, 1989). 

In the 1990s, more books on K-12 WAC were published, including Programs and Practices: Writing Across the Secondary School Curriculum (Farrell-Childers, Gere, & Young, 1994), and K-12 educators preesnted on WAC at conferences, including the first National Writing Across the Curriculum Conference, which was held in 1993 in Charleston, South Carolina. Attention to WAC in K-12 settings continued to grow as postsecondary teacher-preparation programs across disciplines added required courses in the teaching of writing.

Video: Pam Childers discusses WAC in K-12 settings. View the video at https://youtu.be/YFsiCosp27U.

Since the late 1990s, WAC has spread nationally and internationally through the web in both public and independent K-12 schools. Teachers are able to exchange ideas, coordinate student forums and webinars among institutions at all academic levels, and experiment on WAC initiatives with global partners. Within the US, there are nearly 200 NWP sites in all 50 states, and many elementary and secondary school teachers involved with these sites have become acquainted with WAC. In turn, these NWP teachers have influenced the use of writing in elementary, middle, and secondary school classrooms in all disciplines. WAC partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions continue to grow as well (Blumner & Childers, 2011, 2016).

Several other areas have had a strong impact on WAC in K-12 settings. Writing center scholarship has contributed significantly through the natural connections in the areas of writing, genre, and interdisciplinarity (Mullin & Childers, 2020; Jordan, 2006; Lowry & Childers, 2000; Mullin & Childers, 1995). WAC has also gained additional momentum through initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education; and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). New articles and books are coming out regularly, with researchers emphasizing the many connections between these movements and WAC (Childers & Lowry, 2012; Wessling, VanKooten, & Lillge, 2011). In addition, statements from professional organizations, including the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (2011) and the WPA Outcomes Statement (2014), connect directly to WAC in K-12 schools, particularly in terms of how secondary teachers prepare their students for writing in all disciplines in college and beyond (Childers & Lowry, 2016).