Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Walbaum, Shar. "A Cognitive Psychologist’s Rationale for Experimenting with WAC”

Walbaum, Shar. "A Cognitive Psychologist’s Rationale for Experimenting with WAC.” Writing across the Curriculum. Ed. Mary T. Segall, and Robert A. Smart. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005. 137-44.

In “A Cognitive Psychologist’s Rationale for Experimenting with WAC,” Shar Walbaum explains how commenting less on a student paper may actually be more beneficial than filling up a page of student writing with red ink (or ink of any color): “I learned that less is more: my old editing habits were very likely overloading students with too many details. As a consequence, my feedback was probably being ignored. this is just what Jean Piaget, the eminent theorist of cognitive development, would have predicted (Piaget 1972). If we have no way of making sense of new stimuli, we resolve the resulting cognitive disequilibrium by just filtering them out. For example, if I overheard a conversation between a Peruvian couple, I would be in a similar position. Although I know a little Spanish, when it is spoken colloquially, I experience information overload and simply stop listening. This is an adaptive response. If someone wants me to understand something that is being said in Spanish, he or she must speak clearly and simply (presenting me with a moderate amount of cognitive challenge). Similarly, if I want a student to understand what I am saying about his or her writing, I must express it clearly and simply. In other words, cognitive development is possible only when new information is moderately disequilibrating. (Of course, as a cognitivist, I was kicking myself for not figuring out this rule sooner.) During my three years at Mount Holyoke, I learned to ‘zoom out’ as I was reading student work and to look for patterns, whether in terms of micro or macro structure or content” (138). Walbaum also found that writing could be useful even in subjects not typically identified with it such as math (139). Walbaum argues that this is because “When we integrate writing into college courses, we provide scaffolding for young adults’ intellectual development” (143), enabling them to reach their potential by providing appropriate challenges that can spur further development.

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