Writing to Learn

Why is writing an important teaching strategy for every class?

Faculty members in every discipline should require their students to write because writing is a process that helps students to learn in any subject.  Knoblauch and Brannon in “Writing as Learning through the Curriculum” put it best: “The value of writing in any course should lie in its power to enable the discovery of knowledge” (1983).

What does writing to learn look like for a large class?

Knoblauch and Brannon offer the following example:
A sociology teacher has a class of 150 students, surely too many to allow for assigning much formal writing, such as term papers.  But suppose that, on any given class day, the teacher asked students to spend the first ten minutes of class writing freely about the reading assigned the previous night, perhaps relating it to earlier lectures or to some question the teacher raises.  Then suppose that these students traded their statements among themselves, read each other’s writing, wrote responses to that writing for five more minutes, reflecting upon its meaning for them or offering counter-arguments, and then returned the statements for inclusion in course notebooks.  At the end of this procedure, and because of it, students would have achieved a level of intellectual engagement with the materials of the course probably well in advance of what we usually see at the start of a class.  Now suppose that midway through lecture, at a critical juncture of argument or after describing an especially complex idea, the instructor stopped and asked students to write for five minutes, representing for themselves the substance of the teachers’s point.  Then suppose the teacher asked a few students to read their statements aloud, using the readings as a basis for some class discussion.  Again, the level of intellectual commitment and penetration is likely to improve, simply because writing forces any mind to confront new experience, make connections with other experience, and discover some personal coherence.

Writing Resources for Duquesne Faculty