Making Students Smarter Writers

I read an article two months ago called "Simple ways to make yourself far cleverer" (Denis Campbell, The Observer, in The Guardian). According to it, we can all become up to 40% cleverer in a week by playing games, solving puzzles, remembering lists, even "taking a shower with your eyes closed." Some time ago, I read another article on a similar topic, which included using the left hand to do functions normally reserved for the right hand (vice versa if you're left-handed, of course), such as combing your hair or brushing your teeth.

Apparently, just as exercising one's muscles strengthens them, exercising one's brain makes it cleverer. But, I imagine, just as serious weightlifters change up their routine about every two months--because the muscles plateau when repeating the same exercises--brain exercises must vary the games, puzzles, or types of lists.

I'm wondering about applying these findings to composition pedagogy, particularly that of playing games or solving puzzles. It's not clear that making someone smarter is related to helping someone learn. That would be an interesting proposition to research. But I'm wondering if it's not only that people become smarter, but that they may do so related to a particular subject like writing. For now, I'll bypass that and look at the interest factor of games and puzzles.

I like the notion of applying games and puzzles to learning, not simply because it would make students smarter, but because as Csikszentimihalyi wrote in his "Thoughts on Education",

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

Csikszentmihalyi states that it's important that students understand the real consequences of learning, or not learning, and that it's more important that learning become "fun," that is, intrinsically interesting.

Games and puzzles are intrinsically interesting. It would take some time to formulate a game for a composition course, although the Ann Arbor District Library System has created an online game as part of their library system. What sort of game could it be? A mystery novel incorporating research to make an argument? In place of a game, could a wiki be used to write such a novel?

Puzzle solving is a little easier to arrange. Perhaps an ethnographic approach to writing that compares how professor and student languages resemble each other, and how they don't, when making an argument. Along these lines, I'm still looking at Graff and Birkenstein's book They Say / I Say that I mentioned in an earlier post. Or perhaps it's as simple as making the familiar unfamiliar by using classical rhetoric to analyze students' ways of arguing. Or perhaps a combination of the two. Or ...?