Writing as a Mode of Learning

Janet Emig’s article, “Writing as a Mode of Learning” described the ways in which she considered writing to be a unique form of learning compared to other modes of talking, listening, and reading.  She categorized writing into two categories.  Writing was categorized as a second order process as well as a productive function.  She claims that it is a unique form of learning because it combines physical learning, iconic learning, and symbolic learning all in one action.  It is also unique because it provides continual feedback and can be done at the learner’s own pace.  Finally, it allows for analysis and synthesis of knowledge to occur. 

Writing then as a form of learning is powerful because it integrates and uses both sides of our brains as well as many different areas of cognitive abilities.  It applies to those who learn through physical action, those who learn through repetition, and those who learn through symbolic means.  I find this to be very true for my learning process in that writing things down cements what I have learned in my brain.  Because I have to actively listen, process, translate and then write down what I have heard and absorbed the process of writing provides a deeper level of understanding and recognition. 

Emig ends her article by stating that further study and understanding of the importance of writing to the function of learning is vital because if writing is not promoted in all of our disciplines, the functions of writing may soon vanish.  I believe this applies to many of the discussions we have had in class about the importance of promoting writing and composition across the disciplines and not solely within the English department.  If we truly want our students to be proficient writers then promoting writing in all classes should be encouraged. Additionally, if Emig’s ascertations are to be believed, the process of writing will further encourage and deepen students understanding of the topic subjects.  Thus a return of writing to all classes and not just the English departments should be something that is strived toward as a goal for future education.

3 comments for “Writing as a Mode of Learning

  1. Mariana
    April 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I have always believed that there should be more writing across the curriculum. However, I wonder if those who teach courses besides English are qualified/interested/concerned with this issue just as much as we are. How do we do that? On the other side of this issue, for example, this would be like asking English courses to cover mathematic principles. Wouldn’t it?

  2. mcalou
    April 30, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    “What is striking about writing as a process is that, by its very nature, all three ways of dealing with actuality are simultaneously deployed”(124). Emig is saying that writing is a good process for actively engaging the learner. Humans need to participate in the learning process. There is no such thing as “passive learning.”

  3. Kristen Phipps
    April 30, 2009 at 5:12 pm


    I don’t think we need to expect them to view writing across the disciplines as vitally as we do, however, if the act of composition encourages and enables learning then any basic form of writing, to me, should be encouraged. Just as we use examples outside of the discipline to promote learning, so can the science teacher use writing to promote learning as well.

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