In my articles on encouraging reluctant writers over the past year or so, I have proposed various activities that can stimulate, motivate and assist our young writers with this process. These ideas emerged out of the need to support students of various ages, some with specific difficulties and/or memory issues which affected their writing processes, while other students were just not interested.
I do not claim all of these ideas as my own, although a few of them are. As educators, we come across ideas, make them our own or invent new ones. We try them out, analyze what worked, refine them, and add them to our educational kit-bag. If something works it can help to know why. I like to know if there may be some relevant educational or cognitive research which might increase our own understanding about how our students learn or why an approach works.
Among the various methods for encouraging communication and generating ideas, I have suggested activities in which learners could handle and react to unusual objects, create word-swap pools, share their ideas orally by rehearsing and ‘performing’ them out loud. Yet what is the value of this to the writing process?
Scaife and Rogers (1996) suggested that when students’ externalized their internal ideas in the writing process, it enabled them to experiment with those ideas in ways they could not do when kept internally. Externalising an idea adds something new to the learning environment, so that students change, re-invent and then re-internalise new ideas as a result of interaction with the idea and with each other. Externalising ideas using non-verbal visuals and verbal language may also support internal working memory issues related to writing, according to Tanimoto, Winn, & Akers, (2002).
So it would appear that these fun pre-writing activities can perform a useful cognitive and learning function for our students. It seems that they help to provide some element of support for working memory and cognitive processes. Of course, these kinds of activities are not the only tools in our kit-bag. We have various writing frames and other planning and organizational tools such as mind mapping and other structures at our disposal. Whatever we do and however we seek to encourage our students to write, one important thing is to discover writing for pleasure. If we can help our students to discover this, it will, in my view make our efforts worth it.
References for this article:
Macarthur C.A., Graham S and Fitzerald J. (Eds). The hand book of writing research. Guildford Press. New York. 2006
Alastair Fielden is connect’s Education Consultant with over 20 years experience in SEND Education and assistive technologies.