The WAC Clearinghouse

Secondary School CAC/WAC and Writing Centers

Pamela B. Childers, The McCallie SchoolPamela B. Childers, Secondary School Issues Editor
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Whether intentionally or as a result of paradigm shifts in educational institutions, Communication Across the Curriculum exists in middle schools and high schools across the country. And WAC-based writing centers are certainly not new in secondary schools. In fact, some centers existed twenty years ago (Farrell, 1989). This column will address what is happening with CAC/WAC in secondary schools and discuss questions such as: What are the roles of secondary school writing center directors in CAC/WAC? How do these directors interact with student and faculty to communicate across the curriculum? What do we see as the future of CAC/WAC on the secondary level? What role should technology play in CAC/WAC efforts? Future columns will focus in depth on these and other questions involving CAC/WAC in secondary schools. I invite readers wishing to contribute or to comment on this column to email me at

Rather than begin with a history of WAC programs and writing centers in secondary school, I would like to make the assumption that cross-curricular communications do exist at some level in most secondary schools (Farrell-Childers, Gere and Young, 1994). To this assumption, I add that where there are writing centers, these facilities tend to function as the nucleus of the WAC program as well (Mullin and Farrell-Childers, 1995). CAC/WAC functions in secondary schools in a variety of ways. Let us consider some specific examples:

To introduce some ways in which secondary school teachers are using CAC/WAC, I have asked some of my colleagues at McCallie for permission to share their ideas. This first column will focus on the sciences. Biology teacher Mike Lancaster has used technology in his classes for several years. Before we had Internet access through school, I helped Mike's Environmental Science students work collaboratively with secondary education majors in Sam Robinson's class at University of Saskatchewan by copying and pasting their work into files and emailing the messages through my personal America Online account. The students loved writing and receiving mail, sharing a common reading with a college student, and writing an essay to which the college students responded. As we gained email and Internet access (Hobson, 1989; Reiss, Selfe and Young, 1998), Mike had his students involved in discussion groups with Glenn Blalock's students at Stephen F. Austin University. In both of these situations, the college students were also learning; they were gaining experience responding to secondary students' writing before they had even done their student teaching.

With his growing interest in environmental issues, Mike introduced a senior seminar project in his Environmental Science class. Students had to select a teacher who would act as mentor/advisor on the project. Each teacher would fill in a template that Mike emailed to us to evaluate the students' progress throughout the second semester. Mike kept everyone informed through regular email updates. He also created a web page for this course.

This year Mike has expanded his web page to include course requirements for his biology classes, also. Recently the classes performed laboratory experiments, and Mike posted the results with graphs on his website so that each class could compare its results with those of the other classes. By going to his biology link for laboratory activities, students may not only see the results of experiments but also sample hypotheses and questions for them to ponder about the experiments. As Woodrow Wilson National Fellows in Environmental Science last summer, Mike and his colleague Michael Lowry helped create a CORE online website that included several web projects and a listserv for exchange of information among secondary and university science teachers.

As director of our WAC program and the Caldwell Writing Center, I have the luxury of working with my science colleagues. Two years ago Michael Lowry and I designed a senior interdisciplinary science seminar entitled "Oceans Past and Present." Last year we created our website for the course to include a home page with links for students, parents, and educators. Almost immediately we started receiving email from people throughout the world offering new suggested links to add to our site. Each semester we add sample projects that students have designed, new links, course requirements, and specific assignments with assessment tools. We also tried using Nicenet at Northwestern University for our discussion groups, but we have found it too slow and hard to access. We are currently creating a new site through Syllabase at Utah State University as a model secondary course. Our students regularly do web searches on specific concepts, such as longitude, currents, oceanography, navigating the globe, GPS, and storms. Through listserv discussions and creation of an annotated bibliography of individual readings, students are learning to collaborate and communicate with technology.

These are just a few examples of ways that science teachers are using technology for communication and learning in secondary schools. As many of us involved in writing centers have discovered, our jobs involve faculty development more all the time (Barnett and Blumner, 1998). For instance, several years ago teachers began sending me questions about teaching and learning techniques, design of writing assignments and assessments of those assignments. Once we had email, it became much easier to send attachments of drafts rather than bringing a disk to the writing center. Now, we may carry on regular dialogues through email mixed with an occasional phone call and/or face-to-face (f2f) conference (Childers, Laughter, Lowry, and Trumpeter, 1998). But this faculty development may go beyond classroom activity to the growth of teachers themselves. Both Mike and Michael have received summer grants based on work we have done together to design, write, respond to drafts, revise, and edit their personal narratives, description of classroom activities, and philosophical statements required to apply for such grants. On the Caldwell Writing Center home page, we have links to help teachers design assignments using PowerPoint presentations, integration of graphics into student texts, MLA format for citations, professional links, grammar hotline links, WAC links, and other resources.

Beyond the writing center, some of our faculty have set up an eCircle group for faculty to discuss books they have read, issues of grading and other topics of interest. It is really important when a grassroots movement such as this one takes place. When faculty in a secondary school becomes isolated because of physical space, it makes sense to tear down those concrete barriers through discussion groups online. Sometimes just email serves the same purpose; faculty and staff share with "ALL" their good news, bad news, questions, articles from Internet sites, or announcements about cultural and athletic events.

Listservs connect many of us professionally with secondary and university colleagues throughout the world. This past summer I got to meet two writing center directors in London whom I had met online through writing center colleagues in this country. Next fall I hope to present with them at our National Writing Centers Association Conference in Baltimore, but not until I have gone to Australia to meet some other people I have met online through WAC-L! Maybe these plans won't come to fruition, but without the technology to communicate, plan, and collaborate with other educators throughout the world so easily, we would not even consider this possibility. Secondary schools may be behind higher education in use of technology, depending upon institutional funding, interest, and connections with higher ed. However, through exchange of information on technology and collaboration with colleagues, we will continue to see changes in CAC/WAC that challenge us in the future.


Barnett, R. W. and J. S. Blumner. (1998). Writing Centers and Writing Across the Curriculum Programs: Building Interdisciplinary Partnerships. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Childers, P. B., J. Laughter, M. Lowry, and S. Trumpeter. (1998). Developing a Community in a Secondary School Writing Center. In Carol Haviland, Thia Wolf et al. (Eds.), Weaving Knowledge Together: Writing Centers and Collaboration. Emmitsburg, MD: NWCA Press.

Farrell, P. B. (1989). The High School Writing Center: Establishing and Maintaining One. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Farrell-Childers, P. B., A.R. Gere and A. P. Young. (1994). Programs and Practices: Writing Across the Secondary School Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Hobson, E. (1998). Wiring the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Mulllin, J. A. and P.B. Farrell-Childers. (1995). The Natural Connection: The WAC Program and High School Writing Center. The Clearing House Sept./Oct, 24-26.

Reiss, D, D. Selfe, and A. Young. (1998). Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Publication Information: Childers, Pamela B. (2000). Secondary School CAC/WAC and Writing Centers. Academic.Writing,
Publication Date: March 26, 2000
DOI: 10.37514/AWR-J.2000.1.3.06

Copyright © 2000 Academic.Writing.