Developing Academic Skills
for Writing across the
Curriculum
Jan Frodesen
University of California, Santa Barbara
English Language Learner/Basic Skills Colloquium
Santa Monica College
May 6, 2011
ESL/Basic Skills and WAC
 What are the some of the principles of Writing
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across the Curriculum (WAC)?
What are the expectations of faculty regarding
their students’ preparation for college level
work?
How well are students meeting these
expectations?
What are the foundations of college level
writing?
How can ESL/Basic Skills writing instructors
help students develop their abilities to write in
multiple contexts for multiple audiences and
purposes?
 What are the some of the principles of
Writing across the Curriculum (WAC)?
Principles of WAC
 Writing is a tool for learning
 Synthesizing, analyzing, applying
knowledge
 Students need to practice conventions
of academic disciplines
 Writing instruction is ongoing,
throughout students’ education
 Writing is the responsibility of the entire
academic community
(Source: WAC Clearinghouse, Colo. State University)
 What are the expectations of faculty
regarding their students’ preparation for
college level work?
California Higher Education:
Language Competencies
Academic Literacy: A Statement of
Competencies Expected of Students
Entering California's Public Colleges and
Universities (2002)
Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates of
the California Community Colleges, the California State
University, and the University of California.
ICAS Academic Literacy
 Reports on a survey of CCC, CSU and
UC faculty about reading/writing
expectations and student assessment
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62% taught disciplinary courses
38% taught FYC courses
ICAS faculty survey
 Faculty in all 3 segments agreed that in
the process of writing, students should:
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discover and learn new ideas
generate ideas for writing by using
texts, past experience, observations
revise to improve focus, support and
organization
edit to eliminate errors in grammar and
mechanics
ICAS faculty survey
 All elements of academic literacy are
expected of entering freshmen across
all academic disciplines
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reading
writing
listening
speaking
critical thinking
use of technology
habits of mind
 How well are students meeting these
expectations?
ICAS faculty survey: How are
students doing?
Faculty assessment of students’
preparation
 Mismatch between preparation and
needed abilities
 Students are best prepared to write
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personal essays
informal responses
short answer essay questions*
brief summaries of readings
* The only frequently assigned task of these
four
Faculty assessment of students’
preparation
 Only about one-third of students sufficiently
prepared for two most frequently assigned
writing tasks:
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analyzing information or arguments
synthesizing information from several sources
 83% of faculty note that students’ “lack of
analytical reading skills contributes to
students’ lack of success in courses.”
 What are the foundations of college
level writing?
ICAS Habits of mind essential
for college success
 Among the habits of mind listed are
these:
 sustain and express intellectual
curiosity
 experiment with new ideas
 generate hypotheses
 synthesize multiple ideas into a
theory
ICAS Habits of mind
identify and use rhetorics of
argumentation and interrogation in
different disciplines, for different
purposes, and for diverse audiences
 prepare and ask provocative
questions
 challenge their beliefs
 postpone judgment and tolerate
ambiguity
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ICAS Habits of mind
sustain and support arguments with
evidence
 respect facts and information in
situations where feelings and intuition
often prevail
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(For other habits of mind and comparisons with
CA Language Standards and CERT Standards, see
ICAS Academic Literacy, p. 38)
Foundations of College-level
Writing
Framework for Success in
Postsecondary Writing (2011)
Developed by
Council of Writing Program
Administrators
National Council of Teachers of English
National Writing Project
WPA Framework for Success
 Habits of mind
 Experiences with writing,
reading and critical analysis
WPA Framework: Habits of Mind
 Curiosity – the desire to know more about
the world.
 Openness – the willingness to consider
new ways of being and thinking in the
world.
 Engagement – a sense of investment and
involvement in learning.
 Creativity – the ability to use novel
approaches for generating, investigating,
and representing ideas.
WPA Framework: Habits of mind
 Persistence – the ability to sustain interest
in and attention to short- and long-term
projects.
 Responsibility – the ability to take
ownership of one’s actions and understand
the consequences of those actions for
oneself and others.
 Flexibility – the ability to adapt to
situations, expectations, or demands.
 Metacognition – the ability to reflect on
one’s own thinking as well as on the
individual and cultural processes used to
structure knowledge.
WPA Framework:
Reading/writing experiences
 Rhetorical knowledge – the ability to
analyze and act on understandings of
audiences, purposes, and contexts in
creating and comprehending texts
 Critical thinking – the ability to analyze
a situation or text and make thoughtful
decisions based on that analysis
through writing, reading, and research;
 Writing processes – multiple strategies
to approach and undertake writing and
research
WPA Framework:
Reading/writing experiences
 Knowledge of conventions – the formal rules
and informal guidelines that define what is
considered to be correct and appropriate, or
incorrect and inappropriate, in a piece of
writing
 Abilities to compose in multiple environments
– using everything from traditional pen and
paper to electronic technologies.
(Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, Council of
Writing Program Administrators, 2011 <http://wpacouncil.
org/framework>)
Current trends in first year
composition (FYC)
 Analysis of rhetorical situation (in reading and
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writing)
Teaching for transfer/writing-about-writing;
metalinguistic knowledge about writing/
rhetoric
Writing across the curriculum & genre
awareness
Multiple literacies and new media
Public writing (for real audiences)
Collaborative writing/tasks
(Ferris, 2011, TESOL Conference)
Developing skills in multiple
literacies
 So back to the last of the questions I
raised, which could be elaborated as
follows:
Given the varied and complex reading
and writing demands across the
curriculum for even first-year college
students, how can ESL and Basic Skills
writing teachers/classes support their
academic literacy development?
Developing WAC proficiency
 Teaching students to “read like writers”
 Acknowledge reading for content first
 Show students how to ask questions
about the texts they read in your classes
and others (including their own papers)
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Genres and “macrostructures”
Organizational features
Grammar and vocabulary
Reading like a writer:
Genre types
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Essay
Critique
Case study
Lab report
Book review
Methodology,
recount
(Adapted from Gardner,
2010 in Schmitt, 2011)
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Research report
Problem-solution
Literature survey
Narrative recount
Design specs
Reading like a writer:
Genre features
 What is the main purpose of this
text? What is the context of the
piece of writing?
 Who is the intended audience?
 What expectations does the
intended audience have of this
kind of text?
Reading like a writer
 Organizational features
 What are the main parts of the text? Are
they explicitly signaled with headings?
 Where is the thesis or controlling idea of
the text?
 Why does the writer start each new
paragraph? How long, on average, are
the paragraphs?
Reading like a writer
 Organizational features: Language
 What transition words (e.g., first, in
addition, thus, however) are used and
where are they located (At the beginning
of the sentence? Somewhere in the
middle?)
 What words or phrases are used to
emphasize the key ideas?
Reading like a writer
 Organizational features: Language
 What types of reference words (e.g. this
solution, such problems, these
protocols) are used to create links
between parts of the text?
 What classifier words (e.g., analysis,
drawbacks, improvements, objections,
reasons) are used to summarize ideas?
Reading like a writer
 Other language features
 Does the writer use a formal or informal
style? What vocabulary or grammar
structures characterize this style?
 Consider sentence length. Why has the
writer used long sentences? (What ideas
connect to earlier ones? Which ideas are
subordinated to other ideas in the
sentence?) If there are especially short
sentences, what purpose do they serve?
(e.g., to emphasize a point, introduce a
new idea)
Reading like a writer
 Other language features, continued
 How are verb tenses used in different
parts of a paper, such as a research
report?
 When is the passive voice used and for
what reasons (e.g., to put focus on a
topic)
Reading like a writer
 Other language features, continued
 What modal verbs (may, might, could,
etc.) does the writer use to qualify or
“hedge” claims?
 What prepositions are used after
particular verbs? (e.g., control for,
communicate with, prevent from)
Suggestions for “reading like
a writer” tasks
 Select texts that are used for your paper
assignments
 Choose features that are dominant in the text
(e.g. good examples of connecting words and
phrases, use of modal verbs or quantifiers
such as many, most to qualify statements)
 Provide a handout/display of questions for
students to answer
 Limit the task time and questions for effective
focus
Demonstrating habits of mind
Linda Adler-Kassner’s UCSB Writing 2LK: “Historical Literacy and
Writing Choices”
 “As you sit in History 17B, you might think you’re just
learning about some important elements of American history.
But in fact, especially through the writing and reading in the
course, you’re also being introduced to the ways that
historians work”
 One writing strategy goal of Writing 2LK:
Critical reflection: Analyzing the ways in which you conduct
analyses of writing and reading: Considering how, where, and
why you make choices in writing that you do.
Demonstrating habits of mind
Excerpts from a freshman Writing 2LK paper:
 “In order to write this paper it is crucial to
understand that literacy practices are not
universal. Within different disciplines there are
specific expectations…”
 “With Professor X’s teaching in mind, I aimed
to create a thesis that answered the prompt as
directly as possible. This proved to be problem
for me. My thesis went too in depth and failed
to effectively illustrate my argument.”
Developing rhetorical skills
 Rhetorical strategies: Students need
multiple opportunities for instruction
and practice in areas such as the
following:
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Interpreting writing assignments
Using sources appropriately and
effectively
Topic development strategies:
summarizing, comparing, defining,
describing, evaluating, etc.
Rhetorical skills: Interpreting
writing assignments
 Understanding the purpose and
audience for an assignment
 Interpreting the directives (e.g., verbs
that instruct what the student should
do: analyze, describe, discuss, explain,
justify)
 Understanding what is required for
evidence to support a thesis
Rhetorical skills: Using sources
appropriately
 Prompt used by UCSB CLAS tutorial
center for writing workshop:
History 4B:
How did medieval kings inspire
loyalty? Use two of the following
primary source texts on which to
base your answer: The Song of
Roland; “Magna Carta;” The Life of
Saint Louis.
Rhetorical skills: Using sources
appropriately
 The thesis for a paper is not to be found
in the sources; it derives from the
sources.
 Prompts often take understanding
source content for granted
 For the History 4B prompt, students
need to look for patterns, tensions
contradictions in the sources
-Jeff Landeck UCSB CLAS tutor
Rhetorical skills: Using sources
appropriately
 Questions to ask for developing a thesis
from sources:
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What kinds of “conversations” about the
topic are going on in the source texts?
What did you (the student) learn from
these conversations?
(from Margi Wald, UC Berkeley)
Developing language skills
 Needed for all writing across disciplines
 Awareness of formal and informal
register differences
 Academic vocabulary development
 Paraphrasing skills: Vocabulary and
grammar
 Creating connections between ideas
(cohesion): reference words, logical
connectors, classifier words
Informal register
 Text examples from PBS Digital Nation transcript
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These young teenagers on the phones and on
the computers. Like when I was growing up, it
wasn’t like that.
So it really hit me one night not that long ago…
And I don’t know it just kind of snuck up on us.
The point is to be our most creative selves, not to
distract ourselves to death.
He’s pretty confident that his multitasking is
successful.
There’s always gains and losses.
But [these students] have done themselves a
disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing
that a multilearning environment will best serve their
purposes.
(Frodesen, 2011)
Informal register: Sample tasks
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Using a text that has informal vocabulary/grammar:
 Underline examples of informal register; ask
students to: 1) delete words that don’t need to be
there (e.g., filler words like, just); 2) provide more
academic words or phrases for others.
 Ask students to identify fragments and expand them
(Choose ones that can be reasonably expanded)
 Look at conversational vs. stylistic repetition in
writing
 Ask students to find more examples of informal
words, phrases and grammatical structures
 Assign students to look up informal expressions on
the internet for homework (e.g., “drinking the KoolAid) and give brief reports on their meanings.
Academic vocabulary: What you
need to ‘know’ about a word
 Nation’s list: collocation, derivatives/word
forms, connotation, grammatical environment
 Researchers are quite interested about the
relationship between socio-economic class
and educational success. (Longman)
 It is important to recognition this
relationship. (Longman)
 For my interview project, I interrogated four
students, two US-born immigrants and two
born abroad. (Longman)
 The high cost of tuition dwindled the
student’s savings. (Longman, COCA).
(Source: Wald, 2011)
Academic vocabulary:
Summarizing
Identifying organizer classifier words for summary:
 What is the author doing at various points in
providing examples or details?
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Do they represent reasons, advantages, problems,
solutions, clarifications, objections etc.?
These classifier words help to organize the larger
chunks of a text, including the text as a whole
Classifier words that organize texts (typically general
academic words) may often be used to summarize
what the author does:
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Storch points out a number of problems with our
current textbook purchase system.
Logical connectors: What we see
in writing textbooks
Expressing causal relationships
 Fossil fuels are harmful to our environment
because they increase global warming and
they are not renewable.
 Fossil fuels are harmful to our environment,
so scientists are working to find and develop
alternative energy sources.
 Eventually, supplies of fossil fuels will be
depleted. Therefore, scientists are working to
find and develop alternative energy sources.
Expressing causal relationships
There is much debate surrounding the use of nuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants emit relatively low amounts of carbon
dioxide (CO2). Given the low emissions of green house
gases, the creation of nuclear power contributes very
little to global warming, unlike fossil fuels, whose emissions
are seen as responsible for climate change. Also, one power
plant can generate a substantial amount electrical energy.
With such high yield, nuclear energy is considered efficient
and profitable.
However, any people reject nuclear energy as an option
because of safety concerns. First, nuclear waste can be
extremely dangerous and must be carefully stored over many
years, resulting in high costs. Also, accidents in nuclear
power plants can lead to serious consequences for human
and natural life. In light of these potentially devastating
outcomes, many people question the viability of nuclear
energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
(Sample based on Flowerdew, 1998; Gillett, 2009; Schleppegrell, 2004)
Developing vocabulary: Sample
tasks
Task 1
In each list below are four verbs that express a causal
relationship. One word’s meaning differs significantly
from the other three. Circle the word whose meaning is
significantly different.
1. (a) provoke (b) deter (c) slow (d) suppress
2. (a) enable (b) induce (c) inhibit (d) promote
3. (a) block(b) create (c) evoke (d) generate
Developing vocabulary: Sample
tasks
Task 2
The right column of the chart that follows lists verbs
that can help a writer introduce causes or sources.
Many academic verbs tend to collocate (go together)
with specific subjects. In the left column are some of
the most frequent nouns (or types of nouns) that come
before the verb, according to the Corpus of
Contemporary American English.
Answer the following questions:
Which verb tends to be used with nouns that hold
positive meanings?
Which verbs tend to be used with nouns that hold
negative meanings?
Developing vocabulary: Sample
tasks
Nouns
Verb
(+ Preposition)
problems, issues, difficulties, (a)rise from
conflicts, complications
deaths, success, differences,
an increase, growth, effects,
behavior, disorders
pleasure, benefits, income,
satisfaction, value(s)
be attributed to
derive from
Developing vocabulary: Sample
tasks
Task 3
In using reason/result verbs, you need to pay
attention to the grammar of the verbs. Some verbs
cannot be followed directly by a noun object: they
need a preposition after them. Fill in the blanks in the
following sentences by adding the correct prepositions.
1. Online music theft has played a big role
____current changes to copyright laws.
2. The mudslides were blamed ____ the
destruction of more than a dozen homes.
3. His severe headache interfered ____ his
ability to do well on the exam.
Connecting ideas: Reference and
classifiers
Reference Form Noun Phrase Examples
this
this critical issue
that
that outdated notion
these
these two competing hypotheses
those
those earlier considerations
such
such unjust accusations
the + noun
phrase
the first topic that was discussed
another
another important question
other/the other
other significant factors/ the other
concern
Creating connections:
Classifier words
activity
concept
effect
increase
process
situation
analysis
conclusion
effort
issue
program
solution
approach
concern
evidence
limitation
project
strategy
assumption
criticism
example
method
purpose
suggestion
attitude
decline
explanation
objective
question
system
behavior
difference
factor
observation
reaction
technique
belief
difficulty
finding
occurrence
reason
tendency
change
disparity
goal
phase
requirement
topic
choice
distinction
idea
possibility
result
trend
claim
drawback
illustration
problem
scenario
view
Developing language skills
 In sum…
 To develop language skills for academic
writing, students benefit from focused
noticing activities followed by production
tasks.
 Vocabulary and grammar often interact
in patterned ways; knowing words
means knowing their collocations and
grammatical environments
 There are a number of online resources
to help teachers in designing activities.
Online Resources:
MICUSP (Michigan Corpus)
Online resources: Corpus of
Contemporary English
COCA: Concordance string
COCA: Sample expanded entry
 Source information:
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Publication information Summer2010, Vol. 130 Issue 4, p616-631, 16p
Title: College Distance Education Courses: Evaluating Benefits And Costs
From Institutional, Faculty And Students' Perspectives.
Author Lei, Simon A.1 Govra, Rajeev K.1 Source: Education
 Expanded context:
The growth of web-based distance education has been
unprecedented over the past decade and shows little or no
signs of slowing down. In particular, the web-based courses
appear to be an ideal platform to support higher levels of
learning and knowledge construction due to its hypertext
environment that has unbounded access to diverse
information resources (Kanuka, 2002). Communication
between students and instructors, as well as among students
(peers) should always be improving. Each student needs to be
identified as a separate individual; learning styles should be
acknowledged and respected.
Online Resources: The WAC
Clearinghouse (Col State U)
Online Resources: The Writing
Center, UNC Chapel Hill
References and Resources
 Davis, M. Corpus of Contemporary English (COCA)
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http://www.americancorpus.org/
Digital Nation transcript, PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation
Ferris, D. (2011). Expectations and challenges for L2
students in undergraduate writing programs. Presented at
International TESOL Convention, March 18, New Orleans, LA.
Framework for Success in Secondary Writing.(2011). Council
of Writing Program Administrators.
http//wpacouncil.org/framework.
Frodesen (2011) Everywhere you go, there they are: Mining
grammar and vocabulary in source materials for academic
writing tasks. Presented at International TESOL Convention,
March 18, New Orleans, LA.
Gardner, S. (2010). Methodologies for mapping genre
families. Paper presented at the 37th International Systemic
Functional Linguistics Congress July 2010, UBC Vancouver
Canada.
References and Resources
 Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates. (2002).
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Academic literacy: A statement of competencies expected of
students entering California’s public colleges and universities.
Sacramento: Academic Senate for California Community
Colleges.
Michigan Corpus of Upper-Level Student Papers (MICUSP).
http://micusp.elicorpora.info/
Schmitt, D. (2011). Real-world academic writing. Paper
presented at TESOL Annual Convention, March 18, New
Orleans, LA.
Wald, M. (2011). Second language writers meet first-year
composition. Presented at CATESOL State Conference, April 9,
Long Beach, CA.
WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University.
http://wac.colostate.edu/
Writing Center. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/
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