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Why is Writing Such a Difficult Activity?


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Why is Writing Such a Difficult Activity?

Stacy Rosenblum

“Why does it have to be SO hard???” – Mylo, moaning, his head on the table.

“I hear you, Mylo.  Writing is the most difficult thing we are asked to do in school.” – Stacy

Most writing tasks required of the average middle or high school student demand analysis of new material, typically a literary selection or topic to be researched and reported on.  Comparisons must be made to other texts previously read, or to information learned in History, Social Studies and other classes.  Educators call this “higher level thinking,” and the demand can be at odds with the developing cognitive abilities of middle and high school students.  Extensive research by neuroscientists tells us that the prefrontal cortex is the final area of the brain to develop, and that cognitive maturation isn’t fully realized until young adulthood.  The prefrontal cortex is responsible for organization, prioritization, goal driven persistence and decision making, among many other duties – abilities that are essential to writing essays and research papers.

The simultaneous implementation of all of the skills necessary to write an essay is the cognitive equivalent of a Herculean task, one that middle and high school students are asked to perform on a regular basis.  The demand of essay writing is unlikely to go away, so what can we do to help our kids tackle such a difficult task?  We can start by recognizing the enormous challenge of the task.

Writing is, unquestionably, the most cognitively complex task that our brains routinely perform.  When engaged in a writing task, we must simultaneously use our motoric skills for writing or typing, our language centers for word choice and syntax, our memory for topical information and rules of grammar, our executive functioning skills for maintaining attention to details and staying on task, in addition to self monitoring for spelling, grammar conventions and word choice.  We use our social cognition to keep our reader’s perspective in mind – will my words make sense to my teacher?  We have to problem solve, organize, think critically, ideate, analyze – the list goes on and on. 

MyloWrites was built to address the Herculean task of essay writing in a number of ways:  First, we considered how overwhelmed many students become when faced with an essay assignment, and we broke down the essay into manageable chunks. This step-by-step methodology helps to inhibit the impulsivity to which many adolescents and teens easily succumb (remember that immature prefrontal cortex?).  Good planning is key to good writing, and MyloWrites excels at planning.  Students must find quotations to support the thesis statement, and state the context and significance of each quote.  In developing MyloWrites, we carefully considered logical organizational structures, such as in the outline tool.  Finally, MyloWrites teaches a tried and true process for writing, which students can use over and over again to write great essays.


image credit: 

-- Stacy Rosenblum, Learning Specialist