Preparing to Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice

By James D. Williams | Go to book overview
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8
The Psychology of Writing

OVERVIEW

The psychology of writing is an area of study that focuses on examining the relation between mind and language. Of particular interest is the idea that writing is related to cognitive abilities. Some people assume that writing is thinking, whereas others, in a subtle distinction, assume that thinking is writing. The first position, that cognition influences language, draws significantly on the work of child psychologist Jean Piaget. The second, that language influences cognition, relies on the theories of another child psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. This position currently dominates composition studies, where it has led to two related proposals: Writing is inherently superior to speech and abstract thought is impossible in the absence of literacy (in this context, the ability to read and write).

A close analysis of these views shows that both lack sufficient evidence to support their theoretical claims. Cognitive processes influence some aspects of language, but not many; likewise, language--specifically literacy--influences some cognitive processes but not many. Indeed, cognition and language appear to exert a modest reciprocal influence on each other.

The psychology of writing also focuses on the various cognitive processes involved in writing, with a special emphasis on the plans writers construct when they compose. Good writers appear to think more than poor ones, and they also appear to think more about rhetorical features such as purpose, intention, and audience. Thus writing can be seen as a psychosocial process. An effective writing teacher, therefore, develops activities that encourage interaction between cognitive and social processes. A realizable goal is to enable students to become more reflective as they consider issues and ideas during composing.

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