Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. MacArthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
Strategy Instruction and the Teaching of Writing
A Meta-Analysis

Steve Graham

Although some historians claim that they can identify the exact year (1956) and date (September 11) that contemporary cognitive psychology began, such precision is not possible in trying to identify when the conceptual and methodological advances from the cognitive sciences were first applied to the area of writing. A seminal event, however, was an interdisciplinary conference in 1978 at Carnegie Mellon University aimed at synthesizing prior research on writing as well as showcasing new research. Publications of the papers from this meeting in the book Cognitive Processes in Writing (Gregg & Steinberg, 1980) generated considerable interest in the cognitive nature of writing.

An especially influential paper in the Gregg and Steinberg (1980) book presented a model of skilled writing, developed by asking adults to "think out loud" while composing (Hayes & Flower, 1980). Analysis of the participants' verbalizations provided the researchers with a window into the cognitive processes as well as other factors involved in writing. The resulting model included three basic ingredients. One component involved factors that were external to the writer but influenced the writing task. This included social elements, such as the writing assignment, and physical ones, such as the text produced so far. A second component provided a description of the mental operations involved in writing, including planning what to say and how to say it, translating plans into written text, and reviewing to improve existing text. Planning, in turn, involved three processes-setting goals, generating ideas, and organizing ideas into a writing plan, whereas reviewing included reading and editing text. The third component encompassed the writer's knowledge about the topic, the intended audience, and general plans or formulas for accomplishing various writing tasks.

One of the reasons why this model had such a powerful impact on the field of writing is that it provided a viable mechanism for accounting for individual differences in how writers compose. In addition to cataloguing the mental operations involved in writing, Hayes and Flower (1980) proposed that the execution of these cognitive processes was under the writer's direct control, and that virtually any subprocess could interrupt or incorporate any other subprocess. Planning might interrupt translation, for example, if a writer identified the need to develop additional writing goals while producing a first draft. In contrast, another writer might combine translation and reviewing, generating a section and then revising it, then generating and revising a second section, and so on. Thus, a relatively small number of cognitive processes were able to account for a di

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