On Writing by Live Intelligence


One cannot think without writing. Niklas Luhmann

I almost blundered into my creative self in my last year in high school, when I wrote a kind of long remembrance of the deep ravine in my home town, and my fear of it at night. But I had no story to go with the ravine, so my discovering the true source of my future writing was put off for some few years. I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on.

The US writer Ray Bradbury was a gifted child and had a passion for writing no matter the circumstances in which he was growing up and ignoring the ridicule he faced from his classmates as a nine-year-old because he enjoyed reading and collecting comics. Bradbury would have had to wait to develop his communicative talents; he may have experienced the fear of the deep ravine, but - as he admits - he didn't yet have a proper story for it. Admittedly, Bradbury was an extraordinary personality who may rank among the most prolific writers of the 20th century. It is hard to imagine that his creative flair and will were anything ordinary, even typical. Teachers may be sighing right now: if only I, too, had pupils in my class who enjoy writing so much that they could bring a text to the classroom every now and then and might well enhance the lessons with it. And if I don't have such pupils, what should I do to encourage them to start writing and to support them in their writing more consistently? Isn't that too early for primary school pupils? Isn't it too late for secondary school students? And in general: how to start and develop this intention?

This paragraph and the quotations by N. Luhmann and R. Bradbury were originally meant to begin thinking about writing; about the subtle pleasure that comes along with the mental preparation for writing, of the delight of the moment when a child or grown-up author finishes the work, and perhaps even says aloud to oneself: Done, written. The article was meant to be primarily about the writing of students who spend a significant portion of their personal time in school; it was meant to be an underscoring of writing as a technique that enhances one's innate dispositions. The key message was meant to emphasise the belief that writing is one of the most effective ways to hone thinking skills, to improve both reading and comprehension of what is read. This would be the case if we did not live in a time full of twists and turns, unforeseen events, and improbable decisions.

Reports of the first tangible effects associated with the increased application of artificial intelligence into school life are abounding these days. Although we have already addressed the topic, it turns out that what we are most sensitive about - at least for the time being - is the application of the ChatGPT language model to the creation of written texts, especially essays, which are a common method of improving and measuring the level of language and communication competences of children and young people.

Responses to this technological innovation have so far taken two basic forms. The first one is extremely pessimistic, even apocalyptic: creativity of children and young people is in existential threat, processing of events and ideas into coherent written discourse is losing its meaning, schoolchildren will soon consider author's deception as a common practice in dealing with tasks assigned to them. The second response, on the other hand, is highly optimistic and explicitly sceptical about the devastating effects of artificial intelligence. Erik Brynjolfsson, professor of Economics and Information Technology at Stanford University, exemplifies this view. He believes that ChatGPT will not replace either thinking or writing - rather, he assumes that the artificial language model will contribute to improving creative practice. He believes that if the calculator has simplified basic mathematical operations, something similar can be expected for the ChatGPT artificial intelligence, the development of which may kick-start developments in writing that we have not yet seen.

At this point, it may not matter whether we have succumbed to teacher panic or the need to rejoice in every innovation and technological advance. In the rush of intense emotions, we find it difficult to make rational decisions, and so a little pause in writing as a unique vehicle that positively impacts learning, the unveiling of beneficial ideas, and the formulation of successful plans might help to our return to mental well-being.

Writing, along with reading, ranks among the communication techniques and cultural activities that one acquires primarily at school and that educated professionals - teachers - are supposed to develop until the school days are over. It is a major effort at the very beginning - all the written and printed letters must be memorised, they must be pronounced properly, first separately, then in words and simple phrases. Considerable patience and effort are required to manually master the delicate hand moves that need to be mastered to correctly capture the letter shapes in the pattern. It is only later and over time that the creative opportunities emerge - ideas and experiences that have arisen in one's mind and life become the template for writing. It is by the reading and writing mastery of the alphabet that one's individual cultural history begins; it is by the practical mastery of the alphabet that one takes the third significant step into the world of communication and culture (the first one being listening, the second onr being speaking). The inclusion of writing in children's minds does not only have the effect of deepening and widening the possibilities of communication. It is a matter of a more fundamental nature with a substantial impact on other thought operations - with arithmetic being a sound example. A child would hardly learn to calculate without knowledge of the system of numerals (written signs for numerical values), since learning to perform mathematical operations is only conceivable in its written form.

Transcribing a draft in one's own hand is a typical start in discovering a new field of communication - independent writing. The first independent writings are examples of situations in which the child encodes experienced events, his/her own thoughts, and records them. By mastering writing, the child acquires a new media tool that he/she will use throughout his/her life: he/she will communicate with others in such a way that the recipient of the words and sentences expressed does not have to be immediately present. The addressee does not have to be present during the writing, and yet he/she can perceive the writer because the writer has expressed something and recorded the expressed meaning. It is up to the recipient when he/she reads what has been written and how he/she relates to what has been read. If the listener receives what is said immediately in speaking and usually responds immediately, writing slows down communication: the goal of communication is completed only after the reader has received and at least basically processed the result of the writing. The circumstances of writing and the circumstances of reading are two different instances of communication. It is a trivial observation, but perhaps that is what makes it so important.

The first experience of producing a written discourse is exceptional in several ways. By writing, even in its most elementary form, the child mobilises their vocabulary in a new way, considers the correctness of ideas and the appropriateness of words, verifies the correspondence between what is meant and what is written, and finalises the language discourse that has been produced in its creative phase. In detail, writing, by hand or keyboard, is full of small and large actions, simple and complex trajectories of thought, planned and unplanned shifts of attention, reflections on minor adjustments or more serious compositional changes. The communicative result - the text - appears at the end of a person's mental and manual synchronisation.

A text created by an eighth grader or written by a secondary school student may become a major and well-remembered life experience. The very first one may just be that a student writes apt captions for some of the photos that schools post in their photo galleries. Another good moment might happen when a young writer presents his/her text - for example, a simple report on a school event - to classmates. Their applause may be rewarding, but so can sophisticated criticism, which improves the text enough to shape it together into a publishable form - after all, one text may well have more than just one author. A written text can also be given added prestige in other ways, say by displaying it signed in a publicly accessible place - on the school notice board, in the From Our Writing section of the school website, or even in the local media. Sixth graders and secondary school students alike may write boldly, and in doing so, thoroughly experience the responsibility it takes to enter public life through one's own text. Their educators should be just as bold, especially in supporting their students' writing beginnings. For them, it may be a major life event too - to have the joy of having contributed to the communication cultivation of today's pupils, tomorrow's journalists, scientists, lawyers, politicians, writers, by encouraging writing.

Although it looked different when these lines were being written, when thinking about writing at school, the joy of writing is inescapable, even as we feverishly debate the impact of artificial intelligence on pupils' motivation to think and produce text on their own. The joy of writing was certainly experienced by Ray Bradbury both as a pupil and as the acclaimed author of the novel 451 Degrees Fahrenheit. Admittedly, we don't need to possess his talents to see in the artificial intelligence a deep gorge filled with frightening tales of the end of both human thought and pupil writing. Rather, it would be prudent to wait and, in the meantime, take imaginative steps in a variety of teaching subjects that inspire our pupils to take an interest in writing and, in its wake, to be responsibly creative. After all, preparing creative situations for the live intelligence is much more valuable than preoccupying ourselves with the fears of the artificial intelligence.

Karel Dvořák PhD. - DaCoSiDe expert tasked with the creation of A2/B1-level methodological guidelines and certification tools


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