Applying Constructive Developmental Theory to the Teaching of Rhetoric: How Cognitive Level Informs Writing Ability

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In Robert Kegan's groundbreaking work, The Evolving Self (1982), he theorizes that each epistemological stage in cognitive development presents a self that operates according to a very specific psychologic-a highly organized system of thinking and believing that preserves the integrity of the individual. In this system, growth then becomes a direct challenge that threatens the central core of how an individual makes sense of his/her world. Amazingly, we not only survive those challenges, but very often incorporate them into the creation of a more complex identity. Although every discipline in the world of higher education is more or less involved with facilitating students' thinking, the field of writing affords us a singular lens into students' internal struggles. By examining the very words, text, and syntactical structures we can witness the movement from one epistemology to another. All of the so-called writing skills that college faculty applaud-critical thinking, multiple perspectives, arguments that reflect depth and maturity-are one and the same as the hallmarks of higher levels of thought development. By applying constructive developmental theory to writing we can illuminate what is going on in the minds of our students as they are constructing papers, incorporating research, and attempting to participate in academic discourse. This presentation/dialogue will attempt to make visible the internal drama as the 'novice' writer attempts to use the vocabulary of the 'expert.'


Keywords: Cognitive Development, Developmental Psychology, Rhetorical Theory, Application of Cognitive Development to Writing
Stream: Psychology, Cognitive Science and Behavioural Sciences
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Phyllis Benay

Associate Professor and Director, Center for Writing, Keene State College
Keene, New Hampshire, USA

I direct a Center for Writing at a small, liberal arts college in southern New Hampshire; in that capacity, I am responsible for all faculty development in writing and am Director of the Calderwood Institute on the Teaching of Writing which trains faculty across the curriculum. I also work with fifteen student tutors who, in turn, see approximately 1500 students per year at the Center. I am the author of The Guide to Writing:A New Approach to the Teaching of Writing and because my background is in cognitive developmental psychology instead of rhetoric and composition, I bring a cross-disciplinary approach to all aspects of my work.

Ref: I08P0226