The educational theories behind Writelike

Writelike draws on three areas of educational theory.

Since each is a rich topic in its own right, we'll limit ourselves to providing a brief introduction.

We'd encourage you to explore each of these areas; they're helpful no matter what you're teaching.

Artist painting in the Met

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is one of the most robust and reliable learning models in educational psychology, with 40 years of controlled-trial experiments and replicable findings.

Writelike actually began as an experiment to apply CLT theories to writing because its emphasis on beginners learning from examples seemed to fit nicely with the way writers learn by mimicking other authors' voices.

You will see CLT-informed decisions in the way Writelike uses:

  • Modelling
  • Short snippets
  • Minimalist instruction (as much as we can)
  • Worked examples
  • Part-whole construction
  • Extensive practice

These tactics are most helpful for novice learners, and are how we build fluency in basic skills (phrase, sentence and paragraph construction) that enables advanced work in narrative, analytical and persuasive writing.

If you want to know more about CLT, the NSW Department of Education have a great set of introductory resources.

If you want to go further, Advances in Cognitive Load Theory: Rethinking Teaching is one of the most up to date books. 

Alfonso Cuaron directing cast and crew of Gravity

CLT is great, but it doesn't have much to say about motivation.

CLT-based instruction helps students develop fluency which can be self-reinforcing because it's pleasurable to do something you're good at, but beyond that CLT has almost nothing to say about why we teach or why students should want to learn.

Social learning theory goes some way towards filling this gap.

We are social animals. We derive motivation and meaning from our relationships with other people, and we tend to want to learn skills that have social value. 

The branch of social learning we find most helpful is the apprenticeship and community of practice models from Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. 

You'll see community of practice ideas in the way Writelike uses:

  • Authentic texts, written for a legitimate social purpose
  • Pseudo apprenticeship—modelling expert performance, with coaching from tool and teacher
  • Peer feedback
  • Self-reflection
  • Social performance—tools like Wrotevote give students structured opportunities to "perform" for others

If you are interested in this area, see these extracts from Etienne Wenger’s 1998 book on Communities of Practice

If you want to go further, Learning in Landscapes of Practice is one of the most current texts, although it is skewed towards workplace learning more than school.

Spread of fiction and nonfiction books

Where CLT and social learning theory are content-agnostic, genre-based pedagogy is explicitly about teaching reading and writing.

The genre-based approach emphasises the social role of text types and attempts to develop student mastery of genre-specific features.

Similar to social learning theory, genre-based pedagogy tries to involve students in a practice of meaning-making and cultural exchange through text.

Similar to cognitive load theory, it advocates teaching complex skills by starting small and providing lots of modelling on a genre-by-genre basis.

Writelike design decisions based on genre-based pedagogy include:

  • Writing framed as a cultural and social practice
  • Classification of texts by major school genres
  • Systematic exploration of genre-specific features
  • Grammar taught from a functional perspective—as a useful analytical tool, but nothing to get hung up about
  • Mentor texts
  • Explicit instruction
  • Modelled writing—examples, joint construction, independent writing

If you are interested in learning more, here is a good summary of the genre-based approach to reading and writing from the Victorian Government Department of Education.

If you want to go further, Learning to Write, Reading to Learn is a comprehensive text, with an associated Reading to Learn teacher training program

Liszt at 10

In combination, these theories suggest we:

  • Learn from great examples
  • Work on small tasks and increase complexity as we get the hang of it
  • Make a distinction between exercises and performance
  • Work within a learning community
  • Occasionally perform and share where we're up to

It's the way most people develop expertise in sports, music, art, and other performance-oriented fields.

Writelike is attempts to pull these ideas into an online platform that can provide high-quality writing instruction, support independent learning, and free teachers to spend more time on rich instruction, discussion and feedback.