Cognitive Rhetoric identifies components of composition process

Although Berlin heavily criticizes the cognitivist approach, I find some aspects of it to very closely fit my own experiences with writing.  Flower and Hayes break down composition into three stages of mental processes: “the planning stage…generating, organizing, and goal setting; the translating stage, the point at which thoughts are put into words; and the reviewing stage, made up of evaluating and revising” (Berlin 481).  Back in sixth grade, when I was first learning to write the five-paragraph essay, the first two stages were heavily emphasized in the classroom.  We were taught to plan our work by themes and categories, and then use those transition words to bridge ideas.  And from a linguistic perspective, I really credit my homeroom teacher for making us do those 100-word “punishment essays” in the five or ten minutes at the start of the day or right after lunch.  We never got those back, and I don’t know that she ever even read them, but they pushed us to use language quickly, to implicitly translate verbal thoughts into written text.  I believe that these types of exercises are a amjor part of the reason why I’m able to type and write so quickly – there are no pauses to thinkin about how I would “say” something.  Instead, I write.

This is not to say that all my writing skill came from that – simply that the practice of writing was a major part of learning to write well, just as a child learns to speak.  There were many, many more years of work like this before I reached what I see as a pretty good level of proficiency today.  It seems, though, that feedback was far less important than simply engaging in the act of writing.

That said, I had many classmates who were exposed to the same activity.  How did I end up moving on to the regional essay contest that year?  Why not someone else?  Was it because I read more?  Was it because I was prepared for the kind of logical problem-solving that Berlin critiques?  Or is it that I was simply more receptive to punative motivation than my classmates?

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