In July, Judy Willis MD shared some very interesting insights about the neurological benefits of writing for math and science learning. It’s easy to compartmentalize learning into distinct subjects and assume arithmetic belongs in math class while writing belongs in composition class.
But Willis reminds us that certain tasks — like writing — strengthen parts of the brain that can pay dividends in any domain.
Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts, and subject-specific vocabulary. When writing is embedded throughout the curriculum, it promotes the brain’s attentive focus to classwork and homework, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.
We’ve known this for a while. It’s one of the reasons writing across the curriculum (WAC) programs have gained popularity since the 1980s.
At the most basic level, writing requires students to recall knowledge rather than just recognize it (e.g., a multiple-choice question). With more complex writing activities, students must retrieve information, link it with related concepts, then organize and express those ideas in their own words. There’s evidence that this retrieval process produces more learning than even the most thorough study session.
Writing can also have social and emotional benefits. Willis points out that many students are afraid of making mistakes in front of their peers or the teacher. With cloud-based collaborative tools, students can write anonymously and fearlessly express themselves.
Especially with peer anonymity, there is accountability and peer interaction, without the concern about mistakes that is so paralyzing to many students during class time.
Writing activities can empower students to connect with the course material in meaningful ways, confidently explore new ideas, benefit from feedback and reflection, and reflect on their progress over time.
Be sure to check out the full article for more about the benefits of writing for math and science.