The Critical Thinking Value of Writing


Almost three years ago I wrote about the power of writing – by hand. Sure, it’s easy to take notes on an iPad app or on a laptop, but the result is not nearly as beneficial as writing by hand. One of the studies I cited compared college students who took notes by hand vs. a computer.

Students tested right after a lecture tended to answer factual questions equally well regardless of how they took notes, but students who handwrote their notes did consistently better on conceptual questions. What’s more, when students were tested again a week later, the longhand note takers performed consistently better on both factual and conceptual questions.

This has since been confirmed in studies among other types of populations. As Isaac Asimov said, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

But maybe we need to take a step back and discuss writing, regardless of the method. Some of us have long enjoyed writing, be it notes, books, or blogs. However, many people have never picked up or embraced the skill.

In the January edition of EdSource Theresa Harrington describes the impact of writing at a high school in southern California.

“What I was reading wasn’t making any sense,” said [Jesse] Sanchez, principal of the main high school in Brawley, a town in a remote desert region of California a half-hour drive from the Mexican border. What worried him most was the poor quality of students’ writing, which showed some lacked the ability to make coherent arguments for projects they wanted to do to earn a special graduation sash and a note on their transcripts recording project completion. Sanchez responded by creating a school-wide program that requires all students to write regularly in every class, including P.E., where earlier this year, students wrote about what they had learned regarding muscle anatomy and weight training.

This wasn’t just a mandate to write, but a program coordinated across all aspects of the school, with faculty supported with their own training programs. What was the result?

English language arts scores rose 30.6 percentage points to 64.6 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on Smarter Balanced tests from 2014-15 to 2016-17, while math scores increased by nearly 17 percentage points to 29.9 percent achieving those benchmarks. It’s a significant achievement for the Brawley high school, where 74 percent of students are low-income; 22 percent are learning English; and 10 percent are migrants, who change schools during the year to follow their parents’ work in agriculture or other industries.

Other results include more kids writing better applications for colleges, resulting in furthering their education and eventually their careers.

Writing is thinking, and writing well helps clarify thinking. The writing program at Brawley is undergoing continuous improvement while promoting critical thinking.

The school is tweaking its writing program each year, based on student and teacher feedback, Sanchez said. All teachers are receiving training in grading writing assignments according to a rubric that requires students to respond to a question by restating the issue, answering the question, citing sources, and using evidence to support conclusions.

What is the problem? What are potential solutions? What data and evidence supports the conclusion?

How can writing be incorporated as a value-adding activity into the workplace? A3 reports, analysis of quality issues, proposals for new equipment or human assets, customer and supplier collaboration, project presentations – there are many areas.

Improving and reinforcing writing skills adds critical thinking value to both the team member and the organization.

1 Comment

  1. Kalanak

    February 12, 2018 - 7:58 pm

    Good read. I wanna kow what is the difference between native language and foriegn language. 🙂

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