Teaching and learning to write, a shared challenge


Writing is a complex activity and this premise must be taken into account in the teaching and learning process of writing. Research on the didactics of written composition provides evidence about the difficulties of learners when they write and of teachers when they accompany them in this challenge, which must be shared .

The objective, then, is to identify the obstacles that appear during the writing process so that the teacher can create learning opportunities that allow them to overcome them. In this sense, teaching to write should contribute to the cognitive and personal development of the person who is learning to develop this competence .

We therefore assume that writing has multiple dimensions: it is epistemic because it generates knowledge, that is, it helps to organize and elaborate new meanings; it is metacognitive because it implies self-regulation (while we write we are thinking and making decisions about what we write); it is instrumental because it allows us to fix the knowledge that we have or are elaborating (and, incidentally, reading allows access to this knowledge); and it is also social because we live in a written culture and knowing how to write is a requirement to actively participate in our community.

It is a basic competence for life

All these substantial characteristics of writing confirm that it is a basic competence, which combines knowledge, skills and attitudes to successfully overcome the demands that the diversity of social contexts demands throughout life. Consequently, written competence must be addressed, that is, taught not only in compulsory education, but throughout a person’s life stage .

From the point of view of the teacher , we could imagine an analogy between the teacher who teaches writing and the mountain guide: in both cases, the objective is to accompany the person who is introducing himself to this practice (writing / hiking) to share the interest in cultivating this practice, so that the apprentice is not discouraged by the first setbacks and so that, with the right help, he overcomes, step by step, the obstacles he will encounter along the way.

Wouldn’t the mountain guide ever leave the practitioner alone in the middle of the road? And who would not encourage you to climb to a peak if you do not see that you are prepared? And what would you congratulate once you have overcome the challenge? Well, the teacher can consider the accompaniment following this analogy.

Reflections for those who teach

In addition, the one who teaches writing could reflect on the following four questions:

  1. What conception do I have (as a teacher) about the teaching and learning of writing?
  2. How do students understand writing and learning to write?
  3. Why would students want to learn to write (better)?
  4. Are their reasons consistent with my efforts to teach them to write?

The teaching perspective would also have to consider the three phases of the writing process (planning, textualization and revision) proposed by Flower and Hayes more than four decades ago, and that multiple investigations on the teaching of written composition have been concerned with developing in the last years.

From the learner’s point of view, the second and third questions directly challenge them. Within the framework of a subject on writing didactics included in a Catalan teacher training for adults, we asked some learners about their relationship with writing and about their difficulties in improving this competence.

Their answers, which are part of a larger work , show at least two of the intrinsic characteristics of writing: on the one hand, the social dimension (“writing is a means that I have to communicate”) and, on the other, the epistemic (“it’s a way of ordering my ideas”).

In any case, it is necessary to underline the value that learners give to writing, which is still a good starting point for wanting to learn to write (better), which is one of the questions that was previously asked.

Regarding the difficulties in learning to write (better), in the aforementioned study there are answers that clearly illustrate the complexity of this process, such as the following: it says that the text is not understood ”.

Convert ideas into text

This reflection is central to the process of teaching and learning to write, because it implies taking into account the cognitive models of Scardamalia and Bereiter , according to which the teacher must accompany the learner to overcome the model of “saying knowledge”, that is, from pouring ideas into jets on the sheet of paper, to gradually adopting the model of “transforming knowledge”, that is, learning to reformulate the ideas so that they fit the rhetorical situation and become an understandable written text for the reader.

Ultimately, teaching and learning to write is a complex process, which necessarily implies that both parties (whoever teaches and whoever learns) actively participate in this objective.

It is a shared challenge in which, taking up the analogy of the mountain guide, the teacher knows how to accompany the apprentice until he feels safe to climb the top of a mountain alone.

Author Bio: Mariona Casas Deseurasis Professor of Language Didactics. Research Group on Education, Language and Literature (GRELL) at the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia