have shown that writing promotes cognitive activity, develops critical
thinking skills, and is, in effect, an act of learning. Drawing on the
work of Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget,
Jerome Bruner, and John Dewey, Janet Emig notes that “learning is the re-organization
or confirmation of a cognitive scheme in light of an experience” (92).
For many learners, that re-organizational experience takes the form of
writing, a process that involves the hand, the eye, and the brain simultaneously
to reinforce cognition. As Charles Bazerman (see
interview this issue) points out, students “not only learn to write
but write to learn” (xiv).
Through writing, students can make connections between their personal experiences and a discipline’s concepts. In the process, they become more deeply engaged in their disciplinary conversation. For the student, then, the benefits of writing-to-learn can be enormous, and since the goal of many courses is the students’ assimilation and communication of thoughts, ideas and concepts, the professor also benefits in the dialogue spurred on by writing.
Windows on Students' Worlds
Faculty who teach WR courses—or who require a lot of writing but have not as yet sought WR status—often say that they gain a deeper understanding of their students’ thoughts and struggles by reading and responding to their writings. So-called “workaday writing,” loosely-structured, informal writing like journal entries or reflective memos, is a great way to see if what you have taught has been learned and to gauge the effect your teaching has had on your students. Workaday writing
is generally short and impromptu, not requiring large amounts of student or class time.
is written primarily for the benefit of the writer as an aid to clarifying experience; thus,
does not require extensive instructor commentary and response (Tchudi 20).
Ungraded workaday writing assignments
can be valuable tools for teachers as well as for students. They “can give
students almost daily writing practice” and “may serve several purposes: to
summarize the main points of class discussion, to react to a reading assignment,
to work out possibilities for future papers” (Lindemann 222). The workaday
writings of many students—especially those who are writing their way into
a discipline—are often the tangible and living proof of your effectiveness
as an educator and can become a great source of personal pride and professional
Of course, teaching a WR course can be more time-intensive than teaching without a writing component. Reading and responding to student texts is hard work, but because you are engaged through writing on a much more personal level with your students, teaching a WR course can be more rewarding, more stimulating, and even more fun. Writing can often reinvigorate your teaching, and, through the process of engaging students through their writing, you can have a profound impact on your student’s lives and have the possibility of changing and reshaping their cognitive processes.
The writing-intensive course often can encourage students to delve deeper into their disciplines and can aid in the development of undergraduate research assistants. The College of Arts and Sciences offers grants of up to $3000 for undergraduates who qualify as research assistants. These students can benefit faculty members by freeing up some of their valuable time, allowing them to increase the scope of their research projects.
Writing-intensive courses can greatly benefit students through developing their critical thinking and other professional skills, and can benefit teachers as well through increasing the level of their students’ engagement with course themes, goals, and content. It’s a win-win proposition. The WR program encourages you to propose a WR course in your discipline, and through the benefits of writing, improve the quality of student work in your field.
Bazerman, Charles, and David R. Russell, Eds. Landmark Essays on Writing across the Curriculum. Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1994.
Emig, Janet. “Writing as a Mode of Learning.” Landmark Essays on Writing Across the Curriculum. Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1994. 89- 96.
Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.
Tchudi, Stephen. Teaching Writing in the Content Areas. National Education Association Publication, 1986.
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