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The Writing Requirement: Writing to Learn (WL) and Learning to Write (LW)

All students must take three courses designated as LW, WL, or LW-WL.  The premise of our approach to this all-college writing requirement is that the relationship between learning and writing varies by context—different disciplines, courses, teachers, students, and assignments.  We want to encourage flexibility, creativity, and diversity in our recognition of the "site-specific" range of appropriate and effective writing methods and outcomes.  We also need to work together to provide our students with a shared realization of excellence in writing instruction.  Here are a few brief suggestions:

  1. Talk with other members in your department or program about the place of writing in your curriculum.  What do student writers need to know about writing in your courses?  How can writing serve your other learning objectives?  Is there a developmental sequence from introductory courses to senior seminars?  What kinds of writing should they do?  Every department should be able to convey to itself and others what writing students do, how they do it, and why.
  1. It is important that students know that your course is a writing-designated course—and why.  Please include in your syllabus a statement about how and why you intend to use writing so that students are more aware of the role of writing in your courses; this will make them better writers and learners.
  1. About Learning to Write:  LW courses give regular and substantial attention to the process and elements of effective writing.  These courses should have a variety of writing-related activities and assignments that focus on helping students to improve their writing skills generally and / or their understanding of the writing conventions in a particular discipline or genre.  Some ideas about best practices:
    1. Give a range of writing assignments throughout the semester for a good mix of diversity and recursivity.  Writing practice should be iterative without becoming repetitive.
    2. Integrate the steps of writing process into your classroom activities and assignments—invention, drafting, revision, and editing.
    3. Identify and address key elements of effective writing, such as writing with a sense of purpose and audience, organization and development, evidence and use of sources, and the mechanics of punctuation, grammar, and usage.
    4. Identify and address a range of rhetorical modes or patterns of development in your writing assignments, such as summary, synthesis, analysis, evaluation, and persuasion.   In other words, help students write with a sense of purpose by giving them a menu of purposes, as well as methods for achieving them.
    5. Encourage a metacognitive approach to writing—provide students with opportunities to reflect on their writing processes, as well as to contextualize those experiences; for example, address how discipline-specific aspects of your assignments fit into a larger picture of good writing practices more generally.
    6. Design writing assignments that are clear about objectives and criteria, in terms of the assignment in particular and the larger learning outcomes of the course.  Focus and context are important.
  1. About Writing to Learn:  WL courses involve regular and substantial writing for a variety of purposes.  While writing is a significant part of all of these courses, the instructor determines how writing can serve a particular set of specified learning objectives.  Some ideas about best practices:
    1. In composition pedagogy, writing to learn refers specifically to writing activities and assignments that tend to be brief, informal, and ungraded.  They are tools to facilitate learning and thinking—not necessarily to communicate with somebody else in a finished way.  They tend to involve things like journals, in-class writing, pre-writing exercises, and drafts.  Consider making this approach to writing and learning a part of your pedagogy.  See a helpful WAC site for more ideas about and examples of informal WL writing.
    2. While WL courses can vary in their approach, we don't want them to refer simply to any course in which writing happens.  Our current language suggests that students in these courses use writing to construct and express ideas, as well as to engage those of others, which probably describes most writing.  However, the guidelines also call for the "regular" and "conspicuous" place of writing in these courses.  In this sense, all of the suggestions for LW can be useful in WL courses as well.

The key difference between the two designations is that WL courses don't necessarily commit themselves as much to explicit and extensive attention to the writing process itself or to the elements of effective writing, but ought to focus on and articulate more fully how writing serves other learning goals in your subject area.  It therefore makes sense to give extra attention in your syllabus and particular assignments to identifying how writing serves specified learning objectives in your course.