To a school student composition means an essay. While that is one of the definitions of composition, the one I like is this – a creative work, or the action or art of producing a creative work – with the stress on ‘creative’.
Composition is very much part of the curriculum in schools but the ‘creative’ bit is brushed aside. Sometimes compositions are dictated. At other times, samples of compositions provided for reference are reproduced by students verbatim.
Composition and original works are dreaded in our school system because they requires students to pause, think and reflect, gather information, find the right words, express their opinion, and all that just takes too long to get the essay/letter/curriculum done.
Everything is improved when kids write their own essays. As they learn to express themselves on paper they are working on comprehension, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, sentence construction and structure of the text. Original essays written for English class start having a ripple effect elsewhere as better answers are written in Geography, History, Science, etc. Better writing also leads to better elocution. Overall there is less rote learning and less rote expression.
However, remember English composition is a subject taught only till Class 10. Students have just ten years to learn it, but they will continue to use it for the rest of their academic and professional lives – in email, in letters and notes, in business meetings, at presentations, on stage, at conferences and in speeches. As such, it is the first expression of creativity and independence in a student’s life and should be valued accordingly.
For parents and teachers who want to encourage better composition, here’s how I tackle it during the English classes I take. I pay attention to what is required by the school curriculum in terms of structure for an essay or a letter. For example while writing a letter to a municipal authority or the police: I make sure my students understand the structure of the letter (where the date, address, salutation, etc. should appear). I explain the format of the body – 3 paragraphs consisting of – introduction of the problem, stating the impact of the problem and what response is required from the authority.
Then we list real-life complaints like badly lit streets, potholes, chain snatching incidents, etc. Once students realise that they need to write from their own experience or imagination, original thought takes over. We spend 5 to 10 minutes discussing points for inclusion in the letter and the students spend 10 to 15 minutes in writing the letter independently. Suddenly composition starts to become less of a chore. Practice is vital of course, so periodically at least three letters or essays are written independently of each type.
All parents rightly dream of their children making a difference in the world, by working on weighty issues; fighting for a cause; inspiring, educating and instructing others. Those dreams require being able to express yourself in your own words, in writing and in speech. We need to recognize that the training and practice for all that happens in composition class in school.