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Tips for Parents: Managing the Cognitive Complexity of Text Composition

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.


This webinar addressed the issue of the cognitive complexity of text composition. Composing a text is a particularly complex activity from a cognitive point of view. It involves many mental mechanisms for selecting the knowledge to write about in long-term memory, finding words and sentences, setting spelling, handwriting or typing the text, and finally evaluating it. Importantly, in older students, several mental mechanisms can operate simultaneously. Because of such complexity, writing requires large mental resources. In cognitive terms, this means that writing strongly engage writers’ working memory, with a particular engagement of executive functions.

Therefore, one of the challenges of learning to write is to acquire skills and implement strategies that lead to cognitive fluidity and reduce the mental cost of writing. Drafting by organizing ideas is. One strategy that reduce the composing costs and that help writers to set clear goals and to focus on content before language formulation. Regularly assessing what is already written is also of importance. Scientific research on writing has indeed shown that this it is not the time spent revising which is important but the number of episodes of revision. Another important dimension is how writers reread their text: they need to read their text trying to forget their writer’s goal and switching to a reader point of view, that discovers the text. Such change in perspective allows the writer to focus on what can be understood from the text, and not whether they have written what they wanted to write. This is important readers will ignore what the writers wanted to write; they will only deal with the written text.

The complexity of writing leads to a feeling of difficulty, and often leads to a stop in writing. This writer’s block, or at least writing apprehension, makes those students less motivated to write. They in turn often set goals that they cannot reach, which are too high for them, in other words holding too high expectations. Writing apprehension indeed generally comes from a failure to reach these fixed goals. In that perspective, it is important that children set goals and sub-goals they can reach.

Tips

  • Define writing periods (a writing program), but do not wait!
  • Develop precise objectives and distinguish the stages of writing: drafting, formulating in language, revising…
  • Drafts are important for preparing a text
  • Plan your text as much as possible
  • Revise regularly (permanently): do not hesitate to delete parts of the text
  • Reduce procrastination by demystify inspiration and creativity
    • Abandon perfectionism
  • Create a favorable, pleasant context for writing
  • Read your text for assessing it as often as possible.
  • When composition is achieved, put your text apart as long as possible and then read it to evaluate it.
  • Assess your text to check what can be understood. Do not only check if you have written what you wanted to write.
  • With the latter case, the answer will often be positive, even if readers encounter difficulty to understand your text
  • Set goals and sub-goals
  • Plan work periods
  • Know yourself as a writer (knowing with which strategy we succeed best, according to the different writing tasks)
  • Learn from reading and writing
  • Stop your spellchecker while writing! The marks that appear on the screen for signaling errors draws your attention away from your current goal. Set a specific session for checking spelling.

Resources


Authored by
: Thierry Olive
Bio: Thierry Olive is Senior Research Scientist in psychology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and at University of Poitiers, France. His research investigates skilled writing and learning to write in typically developing children as well as in writers with language or learning difficulties. He has published numerous articles on writing, its acquisition, the relationship between writing and working memory, the role of digital writing tools, and on note-taking. He co-edits the Studies in Writing Series published by Brill and the Journal of Writing Research. He is also director of the Maison de Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société, a joint pluridisciplinary laboratory of the CNRS and of the University of Poitiers.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.

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