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  • Writing-to-learn is also known as the writing across the curriculum movement (WAC) movement, in particular in science teaching. According to Keys, WAC was inspired by Britton's (1970) work.

As of 2010, writing-to-learn is still an active field of research and this article needs some upgrading, e.g. see the Discussion page for some comments by Alan Jones. - Daniel K. Schneider 19:33, 7 October 2010 (CEST)


Research reveals that one learns both from and with interactive technology. Writing-to-learn focuses on the use of ICT as social expressive digital media. In this cognitive tools approach, interactive expressive tools are given directly to learners to use for expressing what they experience and know to themselves and also to others.

(1) "Writing-to-learn" has a long research tradition that initially focused mostly on the effects of individual writing and related cognitive issues. Klein's (1999) detailed research review identifies four major research lines and associated main hypothesis:

  1. The "point of utterance" hypothesis: writers spontaneously generate knowledge when they write (Galbraith, 1999).
  2. The "forward hypothesis": writers externalize ideas in text, and then reread them to generate new inferences.
  3. The "genre hypothesis": writers use genre structures to organize relationships among elements of text, and thereby among elements of knowledge (Newell, 1984).
  4. The "backward hypothesis": writers set rhetorical goals, and then solve content problems to achieve these goals (Flower & Hayes, 1994).

These four hypotheses invoke different aspects of writing and are in principle compatible with regard to the learner's competence matrix. According to Klein (1999:252) there are plenty of supportive studies, but only the genre hypothesis has been systematically tested against measures of writers' learning, and shown to have generally positive effects. See also the debate on genres

(2) More recent research mainly conducted in the CSCL (computer-supported collaborative work) community focused on collaborative learning mechanisms, its impact on individual learning and development of tools that enhance collaborative and social learning. Learners can be co- located, e.g. in computer-integrated classrooms (Tewissen, 2001).

Writing activities are essential to many different CSCL paradigms. While mainstream "writing-to-learn" research focuses on the production of larger texts or at self self-contained entries, writing in the CSCL perspective concerns rather producing short texts in various genres (questions, arguments, definitions, etc.). Learner productions plus interactions are meant to provoke various meta-cognitive mechanisms beneficial to learning e.g. conceptual change and deeper understanding. "Restructuring learning environments" (Flower & Hayes, 1994; Erkins et al. 2003) are based on the main hypothesis is that knowledge transformation leads to knowledge constitution (Galbraith, 1999).

Restructuring and knowledge building can be enhanced through computer-supported "knowledge building communities". Writing then contributes to a larger collective body of knowledge whose elements can be edited, manipulated and put in relation. A good example are so-called computer-supported intentional learning environments (CSILE) (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994), that aim at reframing classroom discourse to support knowledge building in ways extensible to out-of-school knowledge- advancing enterprises and make school education more situated (Lave & Wenger, 1991). In one scenario, records made at the place of work (knowledge in action) "ground" reflective activities in the classroom.

Many compatible instructional models, like inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning or project-based learning can integrate research results from successful experimental of clinical studies.

(3) Co-construction enhanced by collective knowledge management is also related to organizational learning. Community memories are to communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) what human memories are to individuals. They make use of explicit, external, symbolic representations that allow for shared understanding within a community. They make organizational learning possible within the group (Stahl, 2000). Conversely, such communities need a social infrastructure around the technical infrastructure (Hakkarainen 2003; Bielaczyc, 2001). Interest in knowledge-building communities is both shared by education and the business literature (Snyder, 2003; Bereiter, 2002; Paavola, 2002). In other words, individual learning in school and workplace, life-long learning, and organizational learning are related issues in this perspective (Scardamalia, 2001).

The genres debate

Writing-to-learn refers to different instructional design models. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) introduced the difference between writing as "knowledge telling" and writing as "knowledge transformation". For Bereiter and Scardamalia, the rhetorical goal of a text incites exploration that leads to discovery of new knowledge/ideas. They distinguish between two processes are used used, depending on the capacities and knowledge of the author:

  • Knowledge-telling: ideas that respond to the rhetorical goal are retrieved from long-term memory and transferred directly into written text. This process of writing is used by those knowledgeable in the topic being considered.
  • Knowledge-transforming: ideas retrieved from memory are transformed by the effort to resolve a conflict between the ideas and the rhetorical goal resulting in the generation of new ideas, content and a deeper understanding of the subject. This is the process of writers that lack expertise in the topic of the text being produced.

Scrutinizing and reworking Bereiter & Scardamalia's model, Galbraith introduces writing as a knowledge-constituting process (Galbraith, 1998), where content is derived from a "dispositional dialectic" (Galbraith 1996 in Galbraith, 1998): the translation process that takes place during a cycle of “spontaneous articulation of thought… during text production” that responds to the stimulus of the emerging text – Galbraith (1998). The subject and the task at hand invoke a network of ideas referred to as "units". If an idea is satisfactory, other ideas are suppressed. If an idea does not meet the needs of the task at hand, other ideas are examined. During the repetition of this cycle there is an emergence of new or contradictory ideas that lead the writere to a broader and deeper understanding of the subject. Galbraith points out that rhetorical planning is only a “reorganization of existing ideas”… “retrieved from episodic memory” (p.140). The resolution of rhetorical problems leads to neither a deeper understanding, nor the development of new ideas.

The process and the number of times the cycle will be repeated is dependent on the author's knowledge of the subject, as this will determine the quantity of ideas generated, the complexity of the semantic network invoked and the author's capacity to express the ideas linguistically.

The product will also be affected by the "translation" strategies used by the author, i.e. the form in which ideas will be represented. The type of planning used for the writing process, (outline vs. free flow), the format of the output (notes, prose, graphic) and the rhetorical goal will all play a determining role in which ideas will be selected and developed (Galbraith, p.147-148).

Catel (2001) distinguishes several dimensions of research according to genre:

  1. Expository writing refers to process that engages a learner in reusing existing knowledge, e.g. to test his knowledge in an examination.
  2. Scientific writing: learners are engaged into different kinds of academic writing, like lab notes, field notes, presentation (including report and explanation) in poster or paper form.
  3. Interpretative (expressive) writing in different genres focusses on exploration of personal thinking, like conceptual cards, stories, slogans
  4. Social (collaborative, cooperative and collective) writing social pratice, usually computer-mediated and often referring to practices of the scientific community.

Many authors seem to agree that diversification of genres is important. E.g. Prain & Hand (1998: 158) argue that " ...results indicate that diversification of writing types enhances opportunities for students to develop higher order thinking skills, including metacogntive understandings.".

For some authors it is important that learners write in their own language (Prain & Hand). Others authors claim that all writings should refer to scientific practice (e.g. Keys). These two views may conflict, but may also be sequenced in a learning experience.

Learning styles and writing

It seems likely that personality differences and cognitive styles will influence individuals' writing process and when and how learning takes place while writing. Learning, personality and cognitive style theories have been applied to the teaching of composition and writing with mixed results but which still give some insight into the processes and strategies applied by learners during writing and how the application writing-to-learn in instruction may effect different learners. These individual differences should be taken into consideration when designing instruction and ICTs to support writing-to-learn activities.

Davidson-Shivers (2002) attempted to test the effects of lesson structure on the pre-writing and writing performance of students categorized using Kolb's Learning Style Inventory. No relationship between learning style and lesson structure was evident in the writing performance.

Using Reid's Perceptual Learning Style Preference questionnaire designed for ESL students, Jones(1996) also found that although his students scored variably on the questionnaire they still openly expressed a preference for traditional teacher-centered instructional styles, opting for strong guidance through explicit models to emulate and standards to acheive. Jones attributes this to socio-cultural norms rather than familiarity with and reliance on these norms.

MBTI and writing

Jensen and DiTiberio (1984) have used the Learning style MBTI to tailor instruction in remedial pre-writing and writing strategies and processes for graduate students and have succeeded (qualitatively) in reducing students perceived anxiety over writing tasks and writing blocks.

Extravert - Introvert

Extraverts tend to generate ideas in freeflow text and discussions, writing with little initial planning. Jensen and DiTiberio suggests extraverts can be helped by being allowed to compose freely and then guided into selecting the most relevant ideas and developing and organizing them further. Introverts on the other hand tend to follow the more traditionally taught phases of outlining/planning, writing, and revising. They like to have ideas clarified before they write. They are often blocked when ideas don't fit into the outline they have conceived. They need to be encouraged to be open to ideas emerging during the writing process as these are key to learning.

The writing process tendencies predicted by the personality type dimension of extravert and introvert are markedly analoguous to Snyder's scale of personality types that categorizes people into low or high self-monitors respectively. -- KBenetos 16:40, 8 January 2007 (MET)

Sensing - Intuition

The sensing types focus on the concrete experience or example and collect lots of data, often neglecting the overall meaning. They benefit from explicit instruction and detailed examples of how to generate ideas and structure and organize them. They often require guidance in formulating thesis statements and summaries and need to be encouraged to look at the relation of their data to these. The intuitive types will focus on general concepts or patterns, neglecting the details. They prefer to set their own goals and structures. They tend to generate ideas in a freeflow manner, leaving details, facts and supports for ideas to later revisions. They need to be encouraged to clarify their ideas and support them with facts and examples.

Thinking - Feeling

Thinking types use explicit objective performance standards to guide their writing. They categorize and structure their ideas easily and clearly, relying heavily on their predefined outlines to make content decisions. They do not take the effect of their writing on the audience into consideration. They need help to revise their structures and relate their information to personal experience or that of the audience. Feeling types need to feel personally engaged by the topic of their writing. They place great emphasis on the impact of their writing and communicating precise sentiments to their audience, often sacrificing structure, organization and clarification of ideas. Outlines are not particularly adhered to, and the structure tends to develop from the anticipation of the readers' reactions. They need help to balance ideas with examples and consider potential opposing perspectives.

Judging - Perceiving

Judging types limit their topics quickly, dealing with the process goals that need to be fullfilled to bring the task to completion. This often leads to hasty decisions and a strict adherence to an outline and schedule that are not acheivable without revision or reordering of certain process goals. They benefit from 'blank' phases where they can give in to sponataneous needs. Perceiving types select broad topics and have difficulty narrowing the scope of their research and writing. They tend to look at exhausitve quantities of data before writing, and have difficulty selecting from the multitude of possible structural and epistemological approaches. While their writing is often thorough, though lacking in focus.

Jensen & DiTiberio observed that writers did best when their early drafts drew on their MBTI strengths and their later drafts filled in what was missing by using their MBTI weaknesses (p.298), suggesting that learning styles can be effectively used to enhance writing performance.

Self-monitoring and writing

In the mid-seventies, Mark Snyder developed a the 25-item self-monitoring scale

to measure "how concerned people are with the impressions they make on others, as well as their ability to control the impressions that they convey to others in social situations". Based on the results, individuals are described as either high self-monitors or low self-monitors.

'High self-monitors tend to regulate their behaviour based on stimuli from their environment aiming to control the effect they have on others in a given situation.

'Low self-monitors' behaviour is regulated by their inner state, expressing themselves according to their thoughts and feelings rather modifying their behaviour and projected self to suit the social circumstances

Galbraith in 1996 (Galbraith, 1999) looked at the writing processes of the two personality types and found that high self-monitors tended to generate most of their ideas during note-taking prior to writing, while low self-monitors generated most of their ideas while writing. They reported that greater gains in knowledge correlated with a greater number of shifts in ideas. High self-monitors simply translated ideas retrieved from episodic memory produced during note-taking (Galbraith, 1999, p. 151). indicating they tend to inhibit new ideas that may conflict with their defined rhetorical goal.


  • This Wiki will be used in some of courses for student writing activities, e.g. they have to improve articles, add new ones, add cases studies, and so forth [more details will follow]
  • Keys (1999) discuss a "science writing heuristic" tool for learning from laboratory activities in secondary science and which can be used by teachers as a framework from which to design classroom activities. "There is evidence that use of the science writing heuristic facilitated students to generate meaning from data, make connections among procedures, data, evidence, and claims, and engage in metacognition. Students' vague understandings of the nature of science at the beginning of the study were modified to more complex, rich, and specific understandings." (Keys 1999:1065).
In french




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