Science of Learning – how we write

Crowther Centre blog

Kristen Molloy November 17th, 2022 · 3 minute read

The ability to express ourselves clearly in writing is central to academic success. In most subjects, including at the VCE level, there will be a writing component that requires the student to ‘prove’ what they know.

But many students find writing difficult. In fact, if you ask most adults, many of them will say the aspect of school they found most challenging was writing.

Writing is undeniably a complex task, where many demands are placed on the student. Unlike biologically primary skills, like speaking or walking, that human beings pick up ‘naturally’, reading and writing are considered to be biologically secondary skills, which means that until we are taught, preferably explicitly, we are unable to do them. While strong reading and speaking skills often correlate with strong writing skills, it is not uncommon for a student to be orally fluent and still find writing difficult. This is because writing is different to speaking in a number of important ways; it is generally more formal, it is often grammatically more complex, and, when we write we are unable to obtain immediate feedback to help us to reframe or restate an idea.

The Simple View of Writing (Berninger et al 2002), suggests fluent or skilled writing requires the mastery of two key aspects. Firstly, we need to know the mechanics of writing. For skilled writers, the mechanics, which include handwriting (or typing), vocabulary, spelling and grammar, are mostly automated. Can you imagine how long it would take to write a sentence if we had to think about how we were holding our pen, or consider every punctuation choice, or sound out every letter? In addition to the mechanics, writing requires us to think or ideate. This includes planning, gathering and sorting content, drafting, editing, refining vocabulary, choosing an appropriate structure and so on.

Recently, a group of teachers from both our Junior and Secondary Schools attended a four-week course run by the SOLAR Lab at LaTrobe University. It was very informative and suggested the following:

  • Teach the skills explicitly
  • Model how to write
  • Focus on the sentence level
  • Build self-regulation and self-monitoring strategies into all writing tasks
  • Allow time for practice, practice, practice!

The myth that writing develops naturally for most students is simply not true. Our school’s focus on the Science of Learning is continuing to inform and improve our teaching of writing.


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