Information Sheet #159

March 16, 2011

Kissing Cousins, Coauthors, Flower and Hayes–and So Much More


[Among the recent surveys on research in composition theory, the most comprehensive is the Handbook on Writing Research, edited by MacArthur, Graham, and Fizgerald (Guilford Press, 2006).  Copied below are several Handbook passages--thought-provoking observations perhaps of value to a liberal arts faculty. ~Bob Marrs]


Teachers are Always Coauthors

“Texts and moments of inscription are no more autonomous than the spray thrown up by the white water in a river, and like that spray, literate acts today are far downstream from their sociohistoric origins. . . .  all writing is collaborative, involving divisions of labor and forms of coauthorship. . . . teachers in schools are always coauthors in students’ writing as teachers take up many roles in the authorship function (deciding to write, setting deadlines, specifying style and topic, structuring the writing process, offering specific words and phrases). . . . hat students are typically held fully accountable as authors is an interesting cultural practice. . . Sociocultural theory argues for viewing writing as a mode of social action, not simply a means of communication.  Writing participates in making particular kinds of people, institutions, and cultures . . . genres produce people and culture. [Paul Prior, “A Sociocultural Theory of Writing”]


Writing and the Formation of Personality

Research conducted by L. Moll has focused on elementary school-age children, confirming that writing is particularly valuable for children in creating imaginary worlds that are central to “the most important artifact created by children . . . themselves, the formation of their personalities.” [Prior, “A Sociocultural Theory of Writing”]


Student Writers Form Their Own Writing Life World

Research by Prior and Shipka has examined the “ways that writers, at all levels, actively selected and structured times and places for writing, chose ways of creating a particular attunement to the task (e.g., listening to certain music, drinking tea or coffee, finding a comfortable spot), sought out interactions with certain people (often friends or family not officially involved in the task) while perhaps avoiding others, and sometimes recruited earlier experiences and texts to the work at hand.  As writers form and regulate worlds to regulate their own consciousness and actions, they do not just inhabit contexts, but actively produce a ‘life world with a certain tone and feel, populated by certain people and their ideas, calibrated to a certain rhythm’.” [Prior, A Sociocultural Theory of Writing”]


Writing a Paragraph Ain’t Easy

“While I am writing, my mind is either simultaneously engaged in or rapidly switching between processes that perform all or most of the following functions:

    • monitoring the thematic coherence of the text;

    • searching for and retrieving relevant content;

• identifying lexical items associated with this content;

• formulating syntactic structure;

• inflecting words to give them the necessary morphology;

• monitoring for appropriate register;

• ensuring that intended new text is tied into the immediately preceding text in a way that maintains cohesion;

• formulating and executing motor plans for the key strokes that will form the text on the screen;

• establishing the extent to which the just-generated clause or sentence moves the text as a whole nearer to the intended goal;

• and revising goals . . . cued by the just-produced text.

These processes cannot all be performed simultaneously.  Attempting to do so, as with a 10-year old computer, would result in overload and writing would stop.  The fact that I am writing this at all, therefore, is testament to the writing system’s ability to coordinate and schedule a number of different processes within the limited processing resources afforded it by my mind.” [Mark Torrance and David Galbraith, “The Processing Demands of Writing”]


Benefits of Outlining and Planning

“Both outlining (producing structured notes) and rough drafting (producing full text, but with relaxed rhetorical constraints) are strategies that allow content planning to be conducted free of the demands of constructing well-formed and coherent text.  There is consistent evidence that outlining does benefit writing [and] forms of rough drafting may also be beneficial. . . .  In a series of experiments, [R. T.] Kellogg considered a number of possible explanations for the beneficial effects of outlining.  The first was that storing the writer’s plan externally frees space in working memory for other processes.  However, Kellogg found that outlining was equally effective regardless of whether it was performed mentally or in external note form. . . . Kellogg concluded that outlining separates the planning and translation components of writing, enabling writers to organize their ideas more effectively prior to writing, and to focus their attention more exclusively on translating ideas into words during the produc- tion of the text itself.”  [Mark Torrance and David Galbraith, “The Processing Demands of Writing”]


Reading the Just-Written Text

“While producing full text, writers frequently pause and read over the one or two sentences that they have just written.  This local reviewing does not, however, typically result in changes to the text.  Rather, the sequencing of reading in relation to planning suggests that it serves to reinstate information about the content and/or linguistic form of immediately preceding sentences.  Local reviewing may therefore serve to reduce demands on short-term memory.” [Torrance and Galbraith, “The Processing Demands of Writing”]


Writers’ Self-Efficacy

“Although girls typically score better than do boys on writing performance indexes and are rated better writers by their teachers, they do not display the corresponding stronger confidence in their writing capabilities.  This phenomenon may be due to the manner in which boys and girls report their self-efficacy beliefs. . . . self-efficacy is typically assessed by asking students to report the strength of their confidence that they possess various writing tasks, or can earn particular grades on writing assignments or classes.  Group differences in the average level of confidence reported are interpreted as genderr differences in self-efficacy.  However, researchers have suggested that boys tend to be more self-congratulatory in their responses to these sorts of instruments, whereas girls tend to be more modest.” [Frank Pajares and Gio Valiante, “Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Motivation in Writing Development”]


Kissing Cousins: Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation

In a 2003 article in Reading and Writing Quarterly, B. J. Walker identified a variety of approaches that instructors can adopt to “help students cultivate their sense of writing efficacy.

• One way is to give students greater autonomy in the writing choices and goals that form their instruction.  When students are able to select some of their own writing topics and assignments, interest and personal investment are heightened.

• Collaborative writing groups and discussion also foster self-efficacy and motivation.

• Students must be helped to develop the strategic self-regulated learning strategies that lead to improved self-monitoring.  Self-efficacy and self-regulation are kissing cousins, and one cannot easily be developed without the other. . . .

• Individualized structures that lower the competitive orientation of a classroom and school are more likely than traditional, competitive structures to increase self-efficacy and academic motivation.”

“When students learn appropriate methods with which to regular their own learning, these metacognitive skills help them to monitor their understanding, self-evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, engage self-corrective actions, and make appropriate choices.” [ Pajares and Valiante, “Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Motivation in Writing Development”]


Reading and Writing: Different Cognitive Footprints

“One learning theory holds that learning is achieved through examining and reexamining information from a variety of cognitive perspectives. . . . each reconsideration of information is deepened, not from repetition (that is a memory issue), but from thinking about the information in a new way.  Since reading and writing have a somewhat different cognitive footprint . . . it is possible that reading and writing can provide these separate vantages for learning.  In fact, research suggests that individuals combine reading and writing in different ways for various tasks, and that these interactions between reading and writing operate somewhat as this theory predicts, at least with regard to content information and metaknowledge.” [Timothy Shanahan, “Relations among Oral Language, Reading, and Writing Development”]


The Flower and Hayes Writing Process Model

The most influential cognitive model for explaining how writers compose texts was developed by Flower and Hayes at Carnegie Mellon.  Using “think out loud” protocols, Flower and Hayes asked adults to describe what they were thinking while in the act of writing. The Flower and Hayes model has three key focal points. “One component involved factors that were external to the writer but influenced the writing task.  This included social elements, such as the writing assignment, and physical ones, such as the text produced so far.  A second component provided a description of the mental operations involved in writing, including planning what to say and how to say it, translating plans into written text, and reviewing to improve existing text.  Planning, in turn, involved three processes--setting goals, generating ideas, and organizing ideas into a writing plan–whereas reviewing included reading and editing text.  The third component encompassed the writer’s knowledge about the topic, the intended audience, and general plans of formulas for accomplishing various writing tasks. . . .”

Hayes and Flower noted that “virtually any subprocess could interrupt or incorporate any other subprocess.  Planning might interrupt translation, for example, if a writer identified the need to develop additional writing goals while producing a first draft.  In contrast, another writer might combine translation and reviewing, generating a section and then revising it, then generating and revising a second section, and so on.  Thus, a relatively small number of cognitive processes were able to account for a divers set of mental operations during composing.”  Although subsequent research has revealed significant shortcomings in the Flower and Hayes model--leading Hayes in 1989 to propose a substantive modification of the 1980 model--their research has had an immeasurable impact on composition research and pedagogical strategies, including a pervasive influence on the Coe Writing Center’s practices.

The Flower and Hayes model can help instructors to focus on specific elements in students’ writing process.  Options include:

    • Structuring a collaborative environment within the class.

• Creating writing assignments that serve a real purpose (e.g., writing assignments connected with service learning projects).

• Ensuring students share their work with each other.

    • Valuing student choice and ownership in their writing projects.

• Designing writing assignments that clearly distinguish planning, drafting, revising, and editing stages.

• Assisting students in establishing their own assignment goals.

• Recognizing the importance of appropriate incentives and assessment stages to mobilize and sustain student effort.

• Providing students with explicit “strategy instruction”(e.g., brainstorming questions to help students a planning stage).

[Steve Graham, “Strategy Instruction and the Teaching of Writing”]

The Value of Peer Talk

“Working with peers helps students externalize covert processes, making them transparent to the implementor and to the other participants in the interaction. . . . rates of student talk in small- and peer-group discussions hve been found to exceed student rates in teacher-led arrangements, potentially offering greater opportunity for students to exercise and master the discourse, and to engage in legitimate reflection, reasoning, and creative responses to problems. . . . Rather than practicing writing skills in solitary situations, students acquire writing knowledge through discursive interactions with others, and through these dialogues talk their way into deeper understandings about writing practices.  How students are positioned and supported in the interactive discourse influences their level of appropriation, application, internalization, and transformation of knowledge, discourse, and practices.” [Carol Sue Englert, Troy V. Mariage, and Kailonnie Dunsmore, “Tenets of Sociocultural Theory in Writing Instruction Research”]

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