Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. Macarthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7
implications of Advancements in Brain Research
and Technology for Writing Development,
Writing instruction, and Educational Evolution

Virginia W. Berninger and William D. Winn

Two developments near the end of the 20th century altered the way researchers study Writing and educators teach Writing. The first development was the application of newly developed brain-imaging technologies to the study of the working brain in live human beings. The second development was the creation of affordable, user-friendly personal computers. Both of these scientific advances are leading to cultural evolution: Brain imaging is becoming a routine medical tool, and personal computers are in many homes and schools. In turn, the cultural evolution is leading to educational evolution as schools change educational practices to prepare students better for the emerging knowledge-based, global economy. We first review what has been learned from imaging studies about the brain basis for Writing, and then discuss how integration of the developmental neuropsychological, sociocultural, and learning sciences perspectives may promote educational evolution. This integration incorporates distinctions between the internal and external environment but emphasizes that the writer's internal brain–mind and the external environment are a single interacting system. In this integration, we distinguish among the individual learner, the teacher's instructional behavior, and the instructional materials, tools, and curriculum (Figure 7.1); the brain's neuroanatomy, the brain's functions, and the observable behavior created by the brain for Writing (Figure 7.2); and the multiple components of the internal functional Writing system in the writer's mind (Figure 7.3).

Contribution of the Decade of the Brain to Writing

During the 1980s, technologies were developed that permitted researchers for the first time to scan the brains of living people while they performed mental tasks. The U.S. government committed substantial federal funding to support basic research on the human brain during the Decade of the Brain (1990– 1999). The resulting knowledge explosion is changing our understanding of the developing and learning brain in profound ways. Previously, knowledge was limited to autopsy studies of individuals who lost specific brain functions due to disease or injury. Berninger and Richards (2002) reviewed findings from brain imaging about the reading brain, the Writing brain, and the computing (math) brain, and related these to developmental and instructional research on


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