Memories... Misty Water-Colored Memories... and also Rebellion via Writing

A baby sitting on his dad's lap, reading a book.
The soon-to-be-first-grader reading back in the day.
Quick - think of your earliest memory of reading. Picture it clearly. Who was there? Where were you? What are the emotions you would use to describe the memory?

Now, think of your earliest memory of writing. Who was there? Where were you? What are the emotions you would use to describe the memory?

These two questions are two of my favorite literacy questions ever. They come from a study by Deborah Brandt (2001), who found that for most people (most, not all), their first memory of reading is sweet, loving, kind, happy, and positive. For most people (again, most, not all), their first memory of writing is the opposite, and often involves some sort of act of rebellion*. 

Historically, reading and writing have held similar places in the collective consciousness. Reading was generally seen to be noble and good ("Turn that TV off and read a book," said many parents everywhere) while writing was seen as subversive and leading to rebellion ("I've written this new thing called the Declaration of Independence," said Thomas Jefferson).

And this is interesting because writing is so incredibly important to learn. Brandt did another study (2009) where she found that, with the advent of the internets, people actually write more than they read now. Additionally, writing unlocks some very important doors, from college admissions to workplace autonomy to engagement with social networks.

If your first memories about reading are happy, and your first memories about writing are sour, how might that impact your desire to improve as a writer? How might that affect your learning to write? 

Turns out, writing is hard, and there are a lot of factors involved in learning to do it. Bazerman, et al. (2017) recently published an article in Research in the Teaching of English that gives an overview of eight principles of writing development, considering what learning to write looks like over time. Understanding and engaging with these eight principles is important for educators for a few reasons: because of the important role writing plays in almost every aspect of our lives, to help create writing instruction that fits the developmental needs of learners, and because of the CCSS. The creators of the CCSS started with an end goal that youth should be prepared for college writing, and then extrapolated backwards, which is problematic because the developmental milestones for each grade level of the CCSS aren't necessarily backed up by research.

I've listed the 8 principles of learning to write below... how might they play out in your classroom?

  1. Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts (p.354).
  2. Writing development is complex because writing is complex (p.354).
  3. Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no single endpoint (p.354).
  4. Writers develop in relation to the changing social needs, opportunities, resources, and technologies of their time and place (p. 355).
  5. The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized reconfiguring of general functions, processes, and tools (p. 355).
  6. Writing and other forms of development have reciprocal and mutually supporting relationships (p. 356).
  7. To understand how writing develops across the lifespan, educators need to recognize the different ways language resources can be used to present meaning in written text (p.356).
  8. Curriculum plays a significant formative role in writing development (p. 356).
*Side note: my first memory of writing involved me and my older sister using a pen to poke holes in and draw on the wheel wells of my parents' new car. It is not a warm and fuzzy memory, although my older sister and I certainly thought it was super-fun before we got caught.

Bazerman, C., et al. (2017). Taking the long view on writing development. Research in the Teaching of English, 51(3), 351-360.
Brandt, D. (2001). Literacy in American lives. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Brandt, D. (2009). Writing over reading: New directions in mass literacy. In M. Baynham, & M. Prinsloo (Eds.), The future of literacy studies (pp. 54-74). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.