- By Jason Bacot
- Published 12/28/2010
Your composition teachers are doing something more than making sure that you know how to use correct grammar, spelling, and rhetoric in your compositions. Believe it or not, they’re laying the foundations for your development as a critical thinker. So don’t think of your composition classes as something to be endured so you can move on to better things. Think of these classes as teaching you how to use tools both within you and outside of you to reach a higher level of discourse and thinking, no matter what field of study you pursue. Have you ever tried making a household repair or a minor auto repair with a very rudimentary set of tools? Perhaps a couple of ill-sized socket tools, a hammer, a few nails, and maybe a screwdriver? Even the simplest task of putting something broken back in order is difficult if you don’t have the right tools, or if you have the tools and don’t know how to use them. But once you have the tools and spend a little time learning how to use them effectively, suddenly those tasks that seemed onerous are much, much easier. Critical thinking and effective communication come much easier once you master the necessary tools.
During your career as a student, you will use writing to inform, persuade, to order your experiences, shape meaning, reach understanding, and objectify your particular reality. Getting good at shaping and organizing language allows you to use it toward your own learning goals. Learning the mechanics of writing is the foundation, not the finished skill. Yes, you may be saddled with an instructor who is content with a
ssigning you rather meaningless, mechanical tasks that don’t do much to help you develop your writing skills. If so, you may have to rely on yourself to avoid becoming stuck at a low level of critical thinking. Usually, though, you will be encouraged to try numerous thought processes in your composition classes, and these are great workouts for developing mental strength. Writing helps you solidify these skills. The theoretical links between learning and language mastery through writing are well-documented. Studies focusing on writing in the fields of clinical nursing, mathematics, psychology, and other disciplines have all found similar results. Students who are able to use their skills in written and oral discourse in their studies learn key concepts better, understand the material more fully, and achieve more general maturity as communicators. All that starts with mastering the simple five-paragraph essay! The essays you are assigned in composition classes are not likely to be the pinnacle of sophistication, and that’s OK. Writing a composition essay on your favorite pop album or movie is a task designed to get you fluent in writing thesis statements, addressing the points you bring up, and tying it all together into a coherent piece of writing. Your teacher isn’t “holding you back,” or giving you busy work.
He or she is opening your intellectual toolbox, showing you the basics and how to use them. It’s the equivalent of building that birdhouse in wood-shop class before learning how to make a chair. So try not to think of essay assignments as boring necessities, but rather as learning to crawl before you can walk, run, and eventually fly intellectually.