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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: D 1 Representations of Writing Across the Curriculum: Foreshadowing a New Era in Composition Instruction
Reviewed by: Sharon Quiroz, quiroz@iit.edu
Posted on: April 6, 2004
Updated on: April 12, 2004

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Each of the four presenters examined representations of WAC in different venues.  Patrick Bizzaro examined representations of WAC in textbooks, Resa Crane Bizzaro examined representations of WAC in syllabi, Philip Adams in OWLs, and James Kirkland was to have presented results of examining journals.  Unfortunately he missed this session.  As the editor of  Across the Disciplines, the electronic transformation of Language and Learning Across the Disciplines, I was especially interested in that presentation.  The panel mostly argued that representations of WAC reflect the values of the English Department.  I would have liked to hear more about how the values of English Departments differ from values of other departments.

But my review here comes out of a larger consideration: I noticed that there were more panels addressing WAC this year than there have been in the past (though they were harder to find, because they didn’t get a strand of their own in the program), and other conference goers remarked that WAC showed up in presentations not overtly promising such a concern.

So I’m wondering how else WAC was represented at this conference. I found Joe Harris’s presentation on a panel called “WAC, WID, and Writing Instruction: Making Composition Matter in the Disciplines,” thought-provoking in at least two ways—neither apparently the issue for him or for others in the audience.  I noticed first that in his presentation he several times followed the use of the term “WAC” with an appositional  “academic writing.”  According to Duke’s web site there is a WID program at Duke, but the piece he talked about at the conference was a course characterized as an introduction to academic writing, taught by post-docs in all disciplines.  This sounds like a version of a comp program, not a version of a WAC program, where students use writing to learn other disciplines, and preferably in more than one course. I suppose Joe Harris didn’t reference the rest of the Duke Writing Program because the panel was focused on training TAs in other disciplines.  So I have to conclude that representations of WAC at the conference might be misleading for trivial reasons.  

Patrick Bizzaro found that the language of the textbooks purporting to address WAC is the language of the English Department: rhetorical modes, genre (replacing rhetorical modes), and reading theory. What other languages are available for talking about language? The language of composition? That always seems to me an English Department language.  It isn’t rhetoric of science or linguistics, which to my mind are less closely associated with English Departments. Phillip Adams seemed determined to disconnect OWLs from English departments, and complained that independent OWLs were hard to find.  He found these websites generally connected visually if not otherwise, to English departments, but frequently were not linked to WAC programs, and seldom made available writing guides to specific disciplines.

Resa Crane Bizzaro examined syllabi from courses in Occupational Therapy and in Business.  Does it look different there?  She found the Occupational Therapy courses to be more in what I take to be the spirit of WAC, in that they provided students with more specific goals and criteria for the writing.  The Business courses appeared to be more rigidly focused on correct usage.  (Neither of them referenced writing centers that were on site.)  It looks like the OT courses used pedagogical mechanisms that allowed them to focus on disciplinary values.  Bizzaro seemed to suggest that the representation of WAC in the Business School should be seen as the old English Department version.  One might also argue that the preoccupation with appearance and correctness is a mark of corporatism.  Still, I take Bizzaro’s point that the focus was on reproducing a form rather than on the purpose of the communications. It appears the disciplines are free to pick and choose, but frequently they see themselves as picking and choosing from English department offerings.

Joe Harris said that what the post-docs in his program most need to learn to prepare for his program is instruction in pedagogy: responding to student writing rather than just grading, revision and, if I remember correctly, assignment design. The Duke website suggests that he does pretty much the same thing with instructors for WID courses. Those are the things I usually stressed in WAC courses, mostly because few of the teachers I worked with were willing to believe they use rhetoric.

Since I couldn’t go to everything, I’d like to hear how others saw WAC representations. Of course the institutional implications are always salient.  As I look at submissions to LLAD, I have to recognize that frequently articles are submitted by colleagues seeking tenure in an English department.  It shows.  But I’m also interested in the theoretical considerations that try to establish how all writing is alike: revision, for instance, from composition.  And how it is different: the engineer who told me that the purpose of a final report is to generate more projects.  That’s rhetoric from the field.

 



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