Content Matters: Curriculum development challenges in academic writing programs

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While still uncommon in the Australian HE context, a growing number of institutions are offering units for credit specifically focused on academic writing outside of specific disciplinary contexts or serving students from across disciplines (AALL, 2015; Barthel, 2013). Given a longstanding consensus in the field that teaching ‘form’, ‘mechanics’ or ‘skills’ in isolation from specific disciplinary content is problematic, the question of what content to have students write about in such units is raised. Drawing on interviews with staff and students in North American writing programs, where credit bearing academic writing programs have been a standard feature of higher education at all levels for more than 50 years (Berlin, 1987; Graves & Graves, 2006; Smit, 2004),this paper identifies three key curriculum challenges: 1.) to inspire or engage; 2) to link between prior knowledge and writing experience and the academic context in higher education, and 3). to enable transfer of writing knowledge to new contexts. The different approaches to the ‘content challenges’ identified in the interviews, as well as more generally the views and experience of practitioners and students provide important perspective for the Australian Language and Learning community. The discussion of curriculum in writing programs specifically references a current debate in the North American composition community prompted by the ‘writing about writing’ (WAW) movement (Adler-Kassner & Wardle, 2015; Downs & Wardle, 2007; Wardle, 2009;) to argue that while there remains diversity in approaches, attention to discourse and genre theory in writing instruction is a valuable element of curriculum design.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Pages (from-to)193-212
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Academic Language and Learning
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2018


  • Academic writing
  • Curriculum
  • Content
  • Composition

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