Thursday, February 17, 2011

Think it Out...

After our discussion the other night in class about the impact that the Internet has had on students’ abilities to construct original thoughts, I began thinking about the common belief that writing is s tool for thinking (NCTE). I would have to argue that writing is not only a tool for thinking, but real writing is in fact thinking.

As mentioned, I think that many students have difficulty creating original ideas; they search through Internet sources, and try to gather other peoples’ ideas as a means of constructing their own. Very seldom do students initially search for meaning and structure of ideas inside themselves. It seems as though the students believe that someone else has already done the thinking, and all they really have to do is summarize the information and reword it enough so they don’t get a paper handed back to them with the big “P” word across the top.

From my experience, many students don’t like to try and generate ideas of their own; they like to search for someone else’s thoughts and answers. Ironically, in Phaedrus, Socrates predicted that the technology of writing would be the demise of human knowledge. He speculated that once we began to write things down, then there would be no more need for memory, and those who had no true knowledge of a subject would be able to participate in the topic’s discourse. So often we ask students to write about things of which they have no knowledge.

We ask them to go find the answer, but they don’t really have to think about answer; they just have to discover it. The growth and expansion of writing technologies have exploded since his time, and strangely his predictions have somewhat come to fruition.

Personally, I constantly look things up on my phone or computer as I search for dates, facts, or other information. There is such little knowledge that must be retained in our lives today since it is so easily accessible. I wonder if this diminishing knowledge has led to a decline in our students’ capabilities to construct original ideas. Without the foundational knowledge needed to initiate the thinking process, can thoughts really be built?

Writing is certainly a tool for thinking, but just because a student has written something doesn’t necessarily mean that there has been much thought put into the process. True writing is thinking, and it should be used as a tool for thinking, but oftentimes writing simply becomes a recording and regurgitating mechanism.

In order for a student to develop strong thinking skills, they must be able to develop, compose, create, decide, criticize, and defend things from their own perspectives and thoughts.

 Although I am a huge digital and technology advocate, I still believe that sometimes our greatest tools and strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. Teachers need to create a balance in the classroom by not allowing digital technologies to become the basis of instruction and resource; there must a space created where students do not have access to other people’s ideas, and therefore must create their own.

Sometimes we need to let the writing process and students’ ideas act as the tools for perpetuating thinking in the classroom. If we always let them search for the answers, then they’ll never have to come up with their own.


  1. Having no teaching experience myself and knowing that the school you teach in is technology-based, I was surprised to hear your comments in class. I have been thinking about that idea since then, and still have no clear consensus in my head, but your comments and this blog definitely have some valid points and are making me think.

    "True writing is thinking, and it should be used as a tool for thinking, but oftentimes writing simply becomes a recording and regurgitating mechanism." I really found myself resonating with this statement. I can remember being "forced" to write all through school, particularly middle school, about topics that I had zero interest in. And I have always hated research papers because I felt like all I was being asked to do was organize and cite someone else's thoughts. (For the record, graduate school has helped me see the value in exploring differing points of view and the thoughts of others on a topic of interest to me; research isn't so bad now, but look how long it took me to get there).

    You're keeping my wheels turning...

  2. Yeah Haley,
    I agree with you about hating to just restate information, but I think there is a value in teaching our students how to take the information and synthesize it with other work. It's like taking building blocks from various sets and using all those blocks to construct an entirely new structure, one that would not be possible with each set alone. I think that's what I've noticed as the major difference in graduate school; it's about using a conglomeration of ideas to construct new ones. Almost like systematic synergy. I think there's a value to bringing those skills into high school as well. I have rarely seen students being asked to do such things at the pre-college level.