A Framework for Writing
What kind of activity is writing? If this question were put to a variety of people, most likely there would be a variety of answers, depending on the individual's age, education, cultural background, and work history. The answer of some might reveal that they consider writing to be a transcription process—the physical act of transforming spoken language into written language, much like an ancient scribe or modem-day court stenographer. This view actually reflects the thinking of Western linguists of the first half of the twentieth century, exemplified in the writing of Leonard Bloomfield, who dismissed writing as "merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks" (Bloomfield, 1933, p. 21). Other answers might highlight the form of writing—for example, spelling words or making correct sentences, paragraphs, or even an entire five-paragraph essay. In fact, elementary school children, particularly those with language and reading disabilities, are likely to say that writing is "making the words right," or "making good sentences." High school and college students see writing mainly as a demonstration of knowledge, done for the purpose of giving teachers what they want and making a good grade (Evans, 1993). Young and older students alike realize that they will be judged through their writing, for either their form or content or both. Hopefully some who answered the question would concentrate on the function of writing as a type of communication—for example, writing a story to entertain, writing a letter to the editor to persuade, or writing an e-mail message to keep in touch with a friend. A last group of answers could conceivably highlight writing as a tool—one that can be used as a memory aid or a means of personal reflection and growth (e.g., the minutes of a meeting, or a private journal). Writing is also a learning tool. By writing about a topic, we come to understand the topic in a different or deeper way (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987). Writing, of course, is all of these things. Writing serves a variety of communicative and cognitive purposes, takes on a variety of linguistic forms consistent with those purposes, and requires the coordination of highly complex mental processes to produce. It is the "final common pathway" of cognition and language—making simultaneous statements about linguistic knowledge as well as world knowledge, social cognition, and executive abilities (Singer & Babir, 1999).
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