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Home » Writing to Learn: How to Write–And Think–Clearly About Any Subject at All

Writing to Learn: How to Write–And Think–Clearly About Any Subject at All

You’re reading a blog post on the British Council’s InBound website. It was originally published anonymously, as it is written by a tutor who wants to remain anonymous. The article discusses the benefits of writing and how to put it into practice in the classroom.

“To learn is to grow.” If you’ve never heard this saying or thought it was relevant to your life, maybe it’s time you reconsidered. Learning something new not only makes you feel smarter, but also improves your overall mental wellbeing. Academics have long recognised this phenomenon and the learning and teaching communities have endeavoured to bring this message to the masses. Now, more than ever, we need to be aware of the positive impact learning can have on our lives.

The tutor in this article outlines how to integrate writing practice into the classroom with the aim of enhancing student learning on a range of topics. Along the way, he or she discusses the benefits of writing for both students and adults alike.

Clear, Active, Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking,” – the ability to think objectively and analytically – is “a highly prized skill.” (Education DSA). It’s something that we’re often judged on as adult, but critical thinking can also be developed and encouraged in younger people. The more you use it, the more you’ll benefit from it. Everyone has it, to some degree, but often we’re not sufficiently trained in how to think clearly and use it constructively. As the tutor in this article points out, “Too often, the focus is on the answer rather than the question.” In other words, when you solve a problem, you often don’t stop to consider whether or not you’ve actually learned anything. To quote the great Henry Ford, “If you think education is spending time in class listening to teachers drone on, you’re mistaken. Education is not about memorizing facts and figures. It’s about engaging with concepts and questions.”

The good news is that just like any other skill, critical thinking can be learned and improved upon with practice. And what better way to practice than by writing? Think about it: regardless of your subject area, you’re constantly presented with new material to learn and new ways of thinking about things. Plus, you’ll develop skills such as report writing and argumentation from studying academic essays. It’s a win-win!

Writing can also help you develop your confidence. Even if you’ve written something in the past and been really nervous about showing your work, writing something new will help you gain confidence. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And who knows – maybe one day, you’ll even enjoy showing off your work and being able to discuss your findings and opinions in a coherent and convincing manner. 

Better Organized Mind

Writing is good for your mind and body. It feels wonderful to zone out and get lost in your own thoughts while you write. Aside from the physical benefits, there’s also a mental health benefit to getting everything down on paper. Writing allows you to organize your thoughts and put them into words, which can be both therapeutic and liberating.

It’s not just about getting things down on paper though – it’s about getting everything _down_. When you study a lot, you learn how to develop good study habits. One of the most beneficial things about studying is that it forces you to be proactive about getting ready to learn. You can’t wait until the day of the exam to start studying, you have to do it now. This is how you get ahead. This kind of study also helps you prepare for the future. When you know what you’re learning, you know what to expect and can adjust your studying accordingly. It also helps you identify gaps in your knowledge, which you’ll then need to address somehow. This isn’t a bad thing!

Writing tasks can also help you structure your thoughts. Sometimes, especially if you’re studying for an exam, it can be difficult to get all the information you need in your head. The thing is, you can’t really memorize or write down all the information. That’s just not going to work. So, by structuring your notes and essay questions, you’ll be able to pull out specific pieces of information when you need them. This will help you retain more and remember things better. One of the best things about studying is that it forces you to become more organized. You have to get everything down on paper, so you can’t forget things. There’s also the possibility that you might discover things that you didn’t know about but were supposed to know. Writing encourages you to think about things in a new way or in depth, which can only be a good thing.

Improved Creativity

“Creativity” is how the English language expert Michael Swanwick defines it. “Creative thinking,” he says, “is the process of generating ideas that haven’t been provided by others. It is often sparked by chance encounters or experiences that provide novel stimulus.” He goes on to say that, “Though it commonly follows a logical and methodical approach, creative thinking can be remarkably original and unpredictable.”

Writing is an incredibly creative activity. You’ll be writing constantly throughout your tutor life, so it would be wise to get used to it. Even if you’ve had bad experiences with writing in the past, you can still find creative ways to express yourself. It’s just like riding a bike – once you learn how, you’ll never forget how to do it. In fact, it feels so good to pull off a clever turn of phrase or develop a new metaphor that you’ll remember the feeling of satisfaction all the days of your life. This is the power of creative writing.

In some situations, writing exercises can even be used to diagnose and treat certain mental illnesses. In her book, _The Creative Mind: The Untold Power of the Imagination_, Susan Wise Bauer explores how “[the] creative mind can be a powerful tool in the therapist’s toolkit,” particularly with regard to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She says that “[t]hrough art and play, the creative mind can be set free from the pressures of everyday life, can be a place for safe experimentation, and can provide fresh insights into interpersonal relationships and the meaning of life.” While this might be the case for certain individuals with mental disabilities, it is certainly not an indication that the rest of us are less capable of creative thought.

More Focus

“Less focus” is the opposite of what you want as an adult (not that you ever really get the chance to be “all focus”). Adults are usually expected to be more mature and put self-interest before everything else, which means that when you’re studying or working you should be focusing on the task at hand. However, constantly being told that you need to pay attention and nothing else is worth your while can get pretty tiresome. This is why it’s beneficial to write – when you get stuck in a book, you can’t really go anywhere else. You have nowhere else to be. You have nowhere else to be because you’ve set the timer on your watch and there’s no way to avoid it. It’s time to study or work. It’s time to study or work. It’s time to study or work.

In his book, _Getting To Yes_, Roger Fisher talks about how the focus of a meeting should not be on positions but on the problem itself. The idea is that by understanding the problem, you understand the solution and this, in turn, allows you to come up with creative solutions that benefit both sides. Writing creates a safe space where you can practice this kind of focused, collaborative thinking – it helps you get your own thoughts out of your head and into the world, which is both a physical and a mental act. In essence, it helps you become more available to learn and think creatively.

More Patient

“Patient” is another word for “calm”, which can also mean “stoic” or “unemotional”. In either case, you want your tutors to be calm and composed, ready to teach and not rushed into making a mistake because there’s too much on their minds. They need to be able to step back from their studies and teaching responsibilities and allow themselves to be guided by the material they’re learning and the questions they’re asking. In essence, they need to be able to become absorbed in their studies or tasks. To put it simply, you don’t want them to be distracted by extraneous thoughts because, as we’ve established, it’s not a good idea to have too many things going on in your head all the time. If the workload is too much or the stress is getting to you, then it’s time to take a step back.