Writing: understanding the load, considering the purpose

Understanding the demands of writing

Writing is a demanding act. It calls for students to engage the psychological, cognitive and social all at once.

When it comes to the psychological aspect of writing, it’s important to consider the writer’s mind set. The student-writer’s emotional state can impact their ability to complete tasks. Further, how students feel about writing can either encourage or limit their writing. Teachers can create a supportive writing environment that validates students’ emotions, and experience of writing. This may include seeking opportunities for low-stakes writing and self-expression. Establishing positive feedback loops can be powerful.

Writing requires thinking paths to work together. This includes thought-patterns of critical thinking, problem-solving, and idea generation. Students also need to consider the organisation of their thoughts and how to best communicate their message. Yet, this is further intertwined with the mechanics of writing. Students confidence with language and literary features can shape the ease with which they write. When we ask students to write, we need to aware of the cognitive load required.

Writing is, at its core, communicative. It requires considering the needs of the audience. This includes understanding norms and conventions, and tailoring the message for the reader. Writing is not only about the writer’s thoughts and ideas, but also how others interpret those ideas.

When writing, the psychological, cognitive, and social elements are intertwined. This places a significant load on student-writers if they struggle in any of these areas. Teachers of writing need to be aware of more than the writing skills. By considering the different dimensions of writing, teachers can build skills towards confidence and capacity.

Writing as sense-making

Writing facilitates sense making, of the self, the world, of new learning.

Writing is a powerful tool for students to make sense of the world, new content, and their personal experiences. The act of writing encourages students to reflect on their thoughts and experiences. Writing supports memory, comprehension and connection-making. Furthermore, the act of writing facilitates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As students write, they immersed in the subject matter. This builds academic understanding. Writing tasks aren’t only for demonstrating knowledge, they create it.

Writing is a platform for self-expression. It creates a space for students to interrogate their emotions, opinions, and perspectives. Through writing, students can develop a greater awareness of their own identity and beliefs, as well as gain empathy and understanding of others’ viewpoints.

Writing builds from self-efficacy

We cannot write well without a sense of self-efficacy.

The act of writing requires a sense of self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task. Writing requires a sense of confidence in their ability. Students who may struggle with the load of writing, often have limited self-belief in their ability to write. When students see themselves as capable, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenges. This may look like seeking feedback or taking risks in their writing. Teachers play a key role in developing students’ sense of self-efficacy. Simple acts of providing actionable feedback in a supportive writing environment are powerful.

Writing needs purpose

As teachers, we don’t want to produce work for no reason. The writing we ask of our students needs to have a clear, communicable purpose. Ideally, one that extends beyond the classroom walls.

Writing tasks need to have a clear purpose and reason. This purpose needs to be communicated and understood. When students understand why they are writing it gives their work a sense of direction. Understanding the purpose of their writing can help students to focus their decisions about the content, structure, and language.

When students know their purpose, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to the process. With a clear purpose for writing students can connect their ideas to real-world contexts. This can extend their writing beyond the classroom.

So, why do we write?

We write to communicate. We write to express ourselves. We write to share ideas and perspectives, persuade others, or reflect on experiences. We write to explore new concepts and build our memory. We write to others.

Why do we ask our students to write?

Do our students know and feel why we want them to write?

How do we communicate the purpose, possibility and power of writing with our students?