What You Write Will Change What You Think – An Educational Perspective


Students wearing face masks attend a class in Ahmedabad on January 11, 2021. Photo: Reuters / Amit Dave / File Photo

“We are barely keeping pace with this pandemic, writing is a luxury we cannot afford,” the school principal told me with a hint of annoyance in his voice. I had asked him about writing, that is, whether he, his teachers, and his students had focused on writing about and during the pandemic. In his response, he listed all the difficulties in keeping a school running and balancing the needs of teachers, parents, students and government. Writing, unless she was mandated to do so, was not on her to-do list. He took a deep breath and sighed as if to dismiss my question. But then, was he right to consider writing as a “luxury”?

As a teacher, university professor and researcher, I consider writing to be a pillar of teaching-learning and to reject it as a luxury is to remove the column that will crush the structure of teaching. But the principal isn’t entirely wrong either because handwriting is often seen in a limited way in teaching – teachers writing on the blackboard and students copying these words and pictures to aid memory. Or, the use of writing in homework and exams to Pin up what has been understood.

In contrast, imagine walking into a classroom where the only noise is the scribbling of pens on paper. You walk around and “see” the thought as it appears in the student notebooks. No longer limited to copying words onto a blackboard or regurgitating facts on an exam copy, writing becomes a reflection and a creation of meaning in action. This is where a glimpse of the immense power of writing resides, and if we want to, she can harness that power tomorrow.

Let’s explore what the research reveals about writing, then consider how educators can benefit, and finally what we can and should do to address the writing starvation.

First, studies have shown that when you write you change what you think, which changes what you write and the cycle continues. When you jot down the bubbling thought streams, forming words on the page, you begin to shift those thought streams, allow new pathways to emerge, and clean up the rutted paths of repetitive thought. You can try this now by jotting down your favorite childhood memory. As you write, you can start to create a story that just thinking probably won’t have produced. You transshape your thinking as you write.

But there is little transformation when we ask students to write down exactly what is written on the blackboard or on the presentation slide to keep track of what is said or, worse, what is being said. to prove this teaching has taken place. This writing is the opposite of educate which comes from the word clear, or to shoot. Such writing dulls and demotivates because there is no prompting, no ignition of the child’s desire, or construction on his latent knowledge. No wonder many teachers find that their students score low on exams, even though student notebooks contain all the knowledge faithfully copied to the board. Writing in such cases was never intended and used for discovery and understanding.

Discovery and understanding from writing also heals emotional wounds. During the pandemic, writing kept people mentally healthy as it gave their feelings expression, their minds focus, and their lives a cohesive narrative. We, as humans, create stories of our lifetimes journey and writing helps navigate difficult times. James Pennebaker’s research, which has been replicated in many other studies, proves that just writing about your trauma can heal them.

Second, writing distributes and deepens cognition. When the waiter at a busy restaurant takes your personalized order (less oil, more chili peppers, no garlic, replace meat with eggs) in a mini notepad, then tears up the page to hang in the kitchen – writing allows cognition to be distributed seamlessly throughout the restaurant, including the cook, the person serving the order, and the cashier. Simple scribbles amplified the discernment, analysis and synthesis of information.

But this is not how we treat writing when we are focusing exclusively on aspects such as the cursive nature of the letters, the beauty of the graphic, or whether the mathematical equation is written in a readable manner. Useful aspects, but focusing exclusively on them and filling the student’s notebook with red circles (look-here-a-mistake) misses the underlying beauty of the writing. Worse, these red circles teach us to hate writing and haunt us in adulthood where we rationalize to write as little as possible because of the pain of criticism it evokes. Ironically, it is the insistence on beautiful writing that schools might develop a reluctance to write.

How is writing beneficial for educators? Writing supports reflection on action and is an analytical tool for evaluating teaching. Soon after implementing a lesson plan, writing can create a space to reflect on the teaching decisions made and how they shaped teaching. Writing helps aha! moments about teaching hypotheses because it forces us to take a break.

Writing also reveals the inner story of teaching. For example, if you see that the students have written various but equally correct and understandable definitions and examples of the same concept and the teacher has written detailed observations in their notebooks, then the teaching is sincere, creative and meaningful. . If all of the notebooks are replicas of the same content or are dominated only by red circles indicating errors, then classroom instruction needs to change.

For schools that think you “need” the latest tech gadget, here’s the final argument: writing costs less than a packet of chips, requires no setup, and can be done almost anywhere.

So why don’t educators write more? Besides the pain of being criticized or finding our big ideas in our heads not so cohesive or practical, the biggest challenges in writing await inspiration or call writing an elite art form. . But inspiration usually comes “after” you start writing, not before. Moreover, the myth of writing as an elite activity reserved for “writers” amounts to reserving art for artists only. According to Brenda Ueland, “I’ve learned that when you write you must feel, not like Lord Byron on top of a mountain, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly threading a bead afterwards. the other. “

To happily soak up the threading of the writing beads, I offer you three ideas:

1. Do some low-stake free writing – write without judgment just to feel the joy of writing and get into the flow. This writing is only for you, but you should write without pausing – write the same word if you feel stuck. I found that children often continued to write, even after the designated 40-minute periods had ended.

2. Try action thinking. On the left page of your notebook, write down something that happened and the right page reflects every action. Take the time for this while you sip your tea in the staff room or before morning meetings strike you as a manager.

3. Create collaborative writing time. Mandate a 20-minute time slot when everyone is writing. Silence and concentration will be educational.

Writing, if used authentically, is an educational power. It is not a luxury; there is a need to help live a more meaningful personal and professional life, which is a key goal of a good education. And since education is not limited to schools, I invite you to write because writing is a necessity, almost like sleeping. If you don’t, sooner or later it will tire you out and fog you up. There was a time when giving a fountain pen made us happy. Let’s rediscover why.

Gopal Midha holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Virginia. He is currently setting up a School Leadership Research Center in Goa.


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