National Writing Project

TR 25. Elaboration: Using What You Know

By: Victoria Stein
Publication: National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Technical Report
Date: May 1989

Summary: This report provides a look at the process of elaboration that allows students to use prior knowledge, not only for comprehension and critical thinking, but also for structuring and planning their papers.

 

Excerpt

But these students seemed not only unaware of the value of the material they generated via elaboration, but also of the value of the process of elaboration itself. Often we saw students taking tentative steps down the road to critical thinking or invention only to hesitate, turn back, or move on to the next paragraph. In some cases, it appeared that students simply devalued their own ideas. More often than not, however, it seemed that elaborative processing occurred without students' understanding or awareness of its effect on processing.

As stated above, our students elaborated freely and spontaneously, but often automatically, without conscious control of the process. That this should be the case is not surprising, in that they have probably never been taught to be aware of this process. The results of this study suggest that teaching students to be aware of the outcomes of elaborative processing might be of value. We think there is real promise in sharing the results of studies like this one directly with our students, to help them develop some metacognitive awareness of the functions of elaboration, the value of elaborative material they generate, and the impact of elaboration, directly and indirectly on the papers they write. This kind of awareness may teach students, first of all, to value their own ideas and experiences more, to bring themselves and their own beliefs into the domain of academic tasks. It may also help them to think more critically and inventively, to explore ideas and their ramifications, to move beyond summarizing to more analytic kinds of writing.

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