A National Study of Writing Across the Curriculum in Middle and High Schools
Background to the Study *Arthur Applebee
A Case Study of the Influence of Kentucky State Testing on Student Writing *Linda L. Baker
English-Language Learners and Writing Across the Disciplines *Kristen C. Wilcox
Science and Mathematics Writing *Marc Nachowitz
The Teaching of Writing Today *Judith A. Langer
Appleebee and Langer are major figures in my review of literature, so I was quite excited to be able to see them in person. The study they and their colleagues presented is a massive undertaking involving middle and high schools in five states and in multiple subject areas (hence, “writing across the curriculum” WAC). Data collection includes observations, interviews, and student artifacts and has generated thousands of pieces of work to look at. Langer mentioned that this was an update to studies Applebee completed in the late 1970s.
Baker specifically looked at Kentucky and discussed some of the negative effects of the portfolios introduced a few years ago, which have since been repealed. During the time of the data collection, the researchers found teachers were instructing in limited genres to have student produce writing for the portfolios. In addition, there seemed to be a lack of authentic writing, again, because of the desire to produce for the portfolios. To me, this doesn't seem too shocking. Once a school, district, or state mandates a certain type of portfolio structure, it will create standardized forms of work. If the goal is to compare students against one another, then the forms of writing will be dictated. In contrast, if the goal is to help improve writing, then students need to be actively involved in the creation of their own portfolio – to show growth and revision, best pieces, and reflection on their individual writing process. This can't be standardized.
Nachowitz discussed the ways content area teachers tend to approach the writing tasks required: 1) emphasis on content 2) Domain specific 3) Genre based. For those schools in which WAC was deeply embedded, students were working within domain specific and genre based writing. Writing was used as a means of learning, not just assessing learning and writing. (Writing as a heuristic – how to think like a mathematician, scientist, geographer etc.) In addition, the content area teachers believed writing was an integral part of their subjects, not just as a favor to the ELA teachers. From this, Langer mentioned that the direction for research may be a need to look at what is appropriate writing instruction for the disciplines, rather than a universal recommendation for all teachers.
For more information about the study, go to: The National Study of Writing Instruction,