Theory Of Writing How People Learn To Write Various Genres? You have also been developing your theory of writing—i.e., you have been exploring whether you

Theory Of Writing How People Learn To Write Various Genres? You have also been developing your theory of writing—i.e., you have been exploring whether you enact your theory of writing in your own composition. As a result of this, you have had the opportunity to create a knowledge base of writing and its practices. In this final reflection, you will be returning to your theory to discuss several questions, including (but not limited to):

Define your theory of writing
What was your theory of writing coming into Critical Writing? How has your theory of writing evolved with each piece of composing?
What has contributed to your theory of writing the most?
What is the relationship between your theory of writing and how you create(d) knowledge?
How might your theory of writing be applied to other writing situations both inside and outside of the classroom? For each of these questions you will need to support your ideas with your previous writing in this course and, through these examples, interpret what you have learned. You will create a compelling argument for whatever you decide to write for this, supported by evidence and analysis of the work completed in class this semester. You will choose a genre to work in—letter, essay, journal entry, or any genre you may desire that is approved by me—that you feel best represents your goals for your reflection and then explain why you chose that genre. In turn, you will also describe how your chosen genre affects the outcome (the final product) of your reflection. This final reflection is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your increased knowledge in writing—the practices of writing, the key terms, and any specific skills you’ve acquired. Think of this piece as another move in the evolution of your theory of writing, and a chance for you to fully explore yourself as a writer and maker of knowledge.
Possible Sources for Study:
How People Learn, Ch. 2, “How Experts differ from Novices”
How People Learn, Ch. 3, “Learning and Transfer”

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Dimension of Assessment









Context and Purpose of Writing (Includes considerations of audience, purpose, and the circumstances surrounding the writing task(s).

Demonstrates a thorough understanding of context, audience, and purpose that is responsive to Project #4 and focuses all elements of the work.

Demonstrates adequate consideration of context, audience, and purpose and a clear focus on Project #4 (e.g., the task aligns with audience, purpose, and context).

Demonstrates minimal awareness of context, audience, purpose, and to the assigned tasks(s) (e.g., begins to show awareness of audience’s perceptions and assumptions).

Demonstrates little or no attention to context, audience, purpose, and to the assigned tasks(s).


Reflects on learning (in the context of key writing concepts, practices, and skills inside and outside of the classroom) in depth to reveal significantly changed perspectives about writing and learning experiences; which provide foundation for expanded knowledge, growth, and transfer.

Reflects on learning (in the context of key writing concepts, practices, and skills inside and outside of the classroom) in depth, revealing fully clarified meanings or indicating broader perspectives about writing and learning.

Reflects on learning with some depth, revealing slightly clarified meanings or indicating a somewhat broader perspectives about writing and learning.Demonstrates a generally accurate understanding of key writing terms, though discussion of terms might be superficial or reductive.

Reflects on learning (in the context of key writing concepts, practices, and skills inside and outside of the classroom) at a surface level, without revealing clarified meaning or indicating a broader perspective about writing and learning. May be seriously confused about key writing concepts.

Genre and Conventions

Demonstrates detailed attention to and successful execution of a wide range of conventions particular to the specific genre, including organization, content, presentation, formatting, and stylistic choices.Thoroughly describes how the chosen genre affects the outcome (the final product) of reflection.

Demonstrates consistent use of important conventions particular to a genre, including organization, content, presentation, and stylistic choices; adequately describes how the chosen genre affects the outcome (the final product) of reflection.

Follows expectations appropriate to a specific genre and/or writing task(s) for basic organization, content, and presentation; minimally describes how the chosen genre affects the outcome (the final product) of reflection.

Attempts to use a genre for basic organization and presentation, though demonstrates lack of awareness of conventions; Little or no consideration of genre choice is presented.

Sources and Evidence

Demonstrates skillful use of previous writing to support ideas about writing and its practices and effectively answers all the questions posed on the assignment.

Demonstrates consistent use of previous writing to support ideas about writing and its practices and adequately answers all the questions posed on the assignment.

Demonstrates an attempt to use previous writing to sources to support ideas about writing and its practices.Most questions on the assignment are answered, but answers are fairly simple with the most obvious points being made.

Demonstrates minimal or no attempt to use previous writing to support ideas about writing and its practices.Few, if any, of the questions on the assignment are addressed.

Control of Syntax and Mechanics

Uses graceful language that skillfully communicates meaning to readers with clarity and fluency, and is virtually error- free.

Uses straightforward language that generally conveys meaning to readers. The language in the project has few errors.

Uses language that generally conveys meaning to readers with clarity, although writing may include some errors.

Uses language that sometimes impedes meaning because of errors in usage. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
Learning and Transfer
Processes of learning and the transfer of learning are central to understanding how people develop important competencies. Learning is important because no one is born with the ability to function competently as an
adult in society. It is especially important to understand the kinds of learning experiences that lead to transfer, defined as the ability to extend what
has been learned in one context to new contexts (e.g., Byrnes, 1996:74).
Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to
another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school
and home, and from school to workplace. Assumptions about transfer accompany the belief that it is better to broadly “educate” people than simply
“train” them to perform particular tasks (e.g., Broudy, 1977).
Measures of transfer play an important role in assessing the quality of
people’s learning experiences. Different kinds of learning experiences can
look equivalent when tests of learning focus solely on remembering (e.g.,
on the ability to repeat previously taught facts or procedures), but they can
look quite different when tests of transfer are used. Some kinds of learning
experiences result in effective memory but poor transfer; others produce
effective memory plus positive transfer.
Thorndike and his colleagues were among the first to use transfer tests
to examine assumptions about learning (e.g., Thorndike and Woodworth,
1901). One of their goals was to test the doctrine of “formal discipline” that
was prevalent at the turn of the century. According to this doctrine, practice
by learning Latin and other difficult subjects had broad-based effects, such
as developing general skills of learning and attention. But these studies
raised serious questions about the fruitfulness of designing educational experiences based on the assumption of formal discipline. Rather than developing some kind of “general skill” or “mental muscle” that affected a wide
range of performances, people seemed to learn things that were more specific; see Box 3.1.
Early research on the transfer of learning was guided by theories that
emphasized the similarity between conditions of learning and conditions of
transfer. Thorndike (1913), for example, hypothesized that the degree of
transfer between initial and later learning depends upon the match between
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.1
What People Learn
Ericsson et al. (1980) worked extensively with a college student for well over a
year, increasing his capacity to remember digit strings (e.g., 982761093 . . .). As
expected, at the outset he could remember only about seven numbers. After
practice, he could remember 70 or more; see Figure 3.1. How? Did he develop
a general skill analogous to strengthening a “mental muscle?” No, what happened was that he learned to use his specific background knowledge to “chunk”
information into meaningful groups. The student had extensive knowledge about
winning times for famous track races, including the times of national and world
records. For example 941003591992100 could be chunked into 94100 (9.41
seconds for 100 yards). 3591 (3 minutes, 59.1 seconds for a mile), etc. But it
took the student a huge amount of practice before he could perform at his final
level, and when he was tested with letter strings, he was back to remembering
about seven items.
SOURCE: Ericsson et al. (1980:1181-1182). Reprinted by permission.
Average digit span
Days of practice
FIGURE 3.1 Change in average digit span remembered.
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
elements across the two events. The essential elements were presumed to
be specific facts and skills. By such an account, skills of writing letters of the
alphabet are useful to writing words (vertical transfer). The theory posited
that transfer from one school task and a highly similar task (near transfer),
and from school subjects to nonschool settings (far transfer), could be facilitated by teaching knowledge and skills in school subjects that have elements
identical to activities encountered in the transfer context (Klausmeier, 1985).
Transfer could also be negative in the sense that experience with one set of
events could hurt performance on related tasks (Luchins and Luchins, 1970);
see Box 3.2.
The emphasis on identical elements of tasks excluded consideration of
any learner characteristics, including when attention was directed, whether
relevant principles were extrapolated, problem solving, or creativity and
motivation. The primary emphasis was on drill and practice. Modern theories of learning and transfer retain the emphasis on practice, but they specify
the kinds of practice that are important and take learner characteristics (e.g.,
existing knowledge and strategies) into account (e.g., Singley and Anderson,
In the discussion below we explore key characteristics of learning and
transfer that have important implications for education:
• Initial learning is necessary for transfer, and a considerable amount
is known about the kinds of learning experiences that support transfer.
• Knowledge that is overly contextualized can reduce transfer; abstract representations of knowledge can help promote transfer.
• Transfer is best viewed as an active, dynamic process rather than a
passive end-product of a particular set of learning experiences.
• All new learning involves transfer based on previous learning, and
this fact has important implications for the design of instruction that helps
students learn.
The first factor that influences successful transfer is degree of mastery of
the original subject. Without an adequate level of initial learning, transfer
cannot be expected. This point seems obvious, but it is often overlooked.
The importance of initial learning is illustrated by a series of studies
designed to assess the effects of learning to program in the computer language LOGO. The hypothesis was that students who learned LOGO would
transfer this knowledge to other areas that required thinking and problem
solving (Papert, 1980). Yet in many cases, the studies found no differences
on transfer tests between students who had been taught LOGO and those
who had not (see Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1996;
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.2
An Example of Negative Transfer
Luchins and Luchins (1970) studied how prior experience can limit people’s abilities
to function efficiently in new settings. They used water jar problems where participants had three jars of varying sizes and an unlimited water supply and were asked
to obtain a required amount of water. Everyone received a practice problem. People
in the experimental group then received five problems (problems 2-6) prior to critical
test problems (7, 8, 10, and 11). People in the control group went straight from the
practice problems to problems 7-11. Problems 2-6 were designed to establish a
“set” (Einstellung) for solving the problems in a particular manner (using containers
b-a-2c as a solution). People in the experimental group were highly likely to use the
Einstellung Solution on the critical problems even though more efficient procedures
were available. In contrast, people in the control group used solutions that were
much more direct.
Given Jars of the Following Sizes
10 Critical 3
11 Critical 4
2 Einstellung 1
3 Einstellung 2
4 Einstellung 3
5 Einstellung 4
6 Einstellung 5
7 Critical 1
8 Critical 2
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.2
An Example of Negative Transfer (continued)
Possible Answers for Critical Problems (7, 8, 10, 11)
Einstellung Solution
Direct Solution
49 – 23 – 3 – 3 = 20
23 – 3 = 20
39 – 15 – 3 – 3 = 18
48 – 18 – 4 – 4 = 22
36 – 14 – 8 – 8 = 6
15 + 3 = 18
18 + 4 = 22
14 – 8 = 6
Performance of Typical Subjects on Critical Problems
Control (Children)
Experimental (Children)
Control (Adults)
Experimental (Adults)
SOURCE: Adapted from Luchins and Luchins (1970).
Mayer, 1988). However, many of these studies failed to assess the degree to
which LOGO was learned in the first place (see Klahr and Carver, 1988;
Littlefield et al., 1988). When initial learning was assessed, it was found that
students often had not learned enough about LOGO to provide a basis for
transfer. Subsequent studies began to pay more attention to student learning, and they did find transfer to related tasks (Klahr and Carver, 1988;
Littlefield et al., 1988). Other research studies have shown that additional
qualities of initial learning affect transfer and are reviewed next.
Understanding Versus Memorizing
Transfer is affected by the degree to which people learn with understanding rather than merely memorize sets of facts or follow a fixed set of
procedures; see Boxes 3.3 and 3.4.
In Chapter 1, the advantages of learning with understanding were illusCopyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.3
Throwing Darts
In one of the most famous early studies comparing the effects of “learning a
procedure” with “learning with understanding,” two groups of children practiced
throwing darts at a target underwater (Scholckow and Judd, described in Judd,
1908; see a conceptual replication by Hendrickson and Schroeder, 1941). One
group received an explanation of refraction of light, which causes the apparent
location of the target to be deceptive. The other group only practiced dart throwing, without the explanation. Both groups did equally well on the practice task,
which involved a target 12 inches under water. But the group that had been instructed about the abstract principle did much better when they had to transfer to
a situation in which the target was under only 4 inches of water. Because they
understood what they were doing, the group that had received instruction about
the refraction of light could adjust their behavior to the new task.
trated with an example from biology that involved learning about the physical properties of veins and arteries. We noted that the ability to remember
properties of veins and arteries (e.g., that arteries are thicker than veins,
more elastic, and carry blood from the heart) is not the same as understanding why they have particular properties. The ability to understand becomes
important for transfer problems, such as: “Imagine trying to design an artificial artery. Would it have to be elastic? Why or why not?” Students who
only memorize facts have little basis for approaching this kind of problemsolving task (Bransford and Stein, 1993; Bransford et al., 1983). The act of
organizing facts about veins and arteries around more general principles
such as “how structure is related to function” is consistent with the knowledge organization of experts discussed in Chapter 2.
Time to Learn
It is important to be realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn
complex subject matter. It has been estimated that world-class chess masters require from 50,000 to 100,000 hours of practice to reach that level of
expertise; they rely on a knowledge base containing some 50,000 familiar
chess patterns to guide their selection of moves (Chase and Simon, 1973;
Simon and Chase, 1973). Much of this time involves the development of
pattern recognition skills that support the fluent identification of meaningful
patterns of information plus knowledge of their implications for future outcomes (see Chapter 2). In all domains of learning, the development of
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.4
Finding the Area of a Figure
Understanding Method
The understanding method encouraged students to see the structural relations in the parallelogram, for example, that the parallelogram could be rearranged
into a rectangle by moving a triangle from one side to the other. Since the students knew how to find the area of a rectangle, finding the area of a parallelogram
was easy once they discovered the appropriate structural relations.
Rote Method
In the rote method, students were taught to drop a perpendicular and then
apply the memorized solution formula.
Both groups performed well on typical problems asking for the area of parallelograms; however, only the understanding group could transfer to novel problems, such as finding the area of the figures below.
or distinguishing between solvable and unsolvable problems such as
The response of the “rote” group to novel problems was, “We haven’t had that
SOURCE: Based on Wertheimer (1959).
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.5
Learning Algebra
Students taking regular algebra in a major school system received an average of
65 hours of instruction and homework during the year. In contrast, those taking
honors algebra received approximately 250 hours of instruction and homework
(John Anderson, personal communication). Clearly, it was recognized that significant learning takes major investments of time.
expertise occurs only with major investments of time, and the amount of
time it takes to learn material is roughly proportional to the amount of material being learned (Singley and Anderson, 1989); see Box 3.5. Although
many people believe that “talent” plays a role in who becomes an expert in
a particular area, even seemingly talented individuals require a great deal of
practice in order to develop their expertise (Ericsson et al., 1993).
Learners, especially in school settings, are often faced with tasks that do
not have apparent meaning or logic (Klausmeier, 1985). It can be difficult
for them to learn with understanding at the start; they may need to take time
to explore underlying concepts and to generate connections to other information they possess. Attempts to cover too many topics too quickly may
hinder learning and subsequent transfer because students (a) learn only isolated sets of facts that are not organized and connected or (b) are introduced
to organizing principles that they cannot grasp because they lack enough
specific knowledge to make them meaningful. Providing students with opportunities to first grapple with specific information relevant to a topic has
been shown to create a “time for telling” that enables them to learn much
more from an organizing lecture (as measured by subsequent abilities to
transfer) than students who did not first have these specific opportunities;
see Box 3.6.
Providing students with time to learn also includes providing enough
time for them to process information. Pezdek and Miceli (1982) found that
on one particular task, it took 3rd graders 15 seconds to integrate pictorial
and verbal information; when given only 8 seconds, they couldn’t mentally
integrate the information, probably due to short-term memory limitations.
The implication is that learning cannot be rushed; the complex cognitive
activity of information integration requires time.
Beyond “Time on Task”
It is clear that different ways of using one’s time have different effects on
learning and transfer. A considerable amount is known about variables that
affect learning. For example, learning is most effective when people engage
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
BOX 3.6
Preparation for Learning with Understanding
Three different groups of college students received different kinds of instruction
about schema theory and memory and then completed a transfer task where
they were asked to make detailed predictions about the results of a new memory
study. Students in Group 1 read and summarized a text on the topic of schema
theory and then listened to a lecture designed to help them organize their knowledge and learn with understanding. Group 2 did not read the text but, instead,
actively compared simplified data sets from schema experiments on memory
and then heard the same lecture as Group 1. Group 3 spent twice as much time
as Group 2 working with the data sets but did not receive the organizing lecture.
On the transfer test, students in Group 2 performed much better than those in
Groups 1 and 3. Their work with the data sets set the stage for them to learn
from the lecture. The lecture was necessary, as indicated by the poor performance of Group 3.
Group 3
Group 2
Group 1
Possible predictions (%)
SOURCE: From Schwartz et al. (1999).
in “deliberate practice” that includes active monitoring of one’s learning
experiences (Ericsson et al., 1993). Monitoring involves attempts to seek
and use feedback about one’s progress. Feedback has long been identified
as important for successful learning (see, e.g., Thorndike, 1913), but it should
not be regarded as a unidimensional concept. For example, feedback that
signals progress in memorizing facts and formulas is different from feedback
that signals the state of the students’ understanding (Chi et al., 1989, 1994).
In addition, as noted in Chapter 2, students need feedback about the degree
to which they know when, where, and how to use the knowledge they are
learning. By inadvertently relying on clues—such as which chapter in a text
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition
the practice problems came from—students can erroneously think they have
conditionalized their knowledge when, in fact, they have not (Bransford,
Understanding when, where, and why to use new knowledge can be
enhanced through the use of “contrasting cases,” a concept from the field of
perceptual learning (see, e.g., Gagné and Gibson, 1947; Garner, 1974; Gibson
and Gibson, 1955). Appropriately arranged contrasts can help people notice new features that previously escaped their attention and learn which
features are relevant or irrelevant to a particular concept. The benefits of
appropriately arranged contrasting cases apply not only to perceptual learning, but also to conceptual learning (Bransford et al., 1989; Schwartz et al.,
1999). For example, the concept of linear function becomes clearer when
contrasted with nonlinear functions; the concept of recognition memory
becomes clearer when contrasted with measures such as free recall and
cued recall.
A number of studies converge on the conclusion that transfer is enhanced by helping students see potential transfer implications of what they
are learning (Anderson et al., 1996). In one of the studies on learning
LOGO program…
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