When I taught developmental writing years ago at a community college, the first lessons revolved around structure. Good paragraphs require topic sentences plus 3-5 supporting sentences plus concluding sentences. All the sentences within a paragraph focuses on a single topic clearly stated in the topic sentence. Later, as students’ abilities grew, we moved on to the structure of good essays, building on what we learned about paragraphs.
When students came to class the first day, they lacked confidence not just in their writing abilities but in their ability to even learn to write well. After all, those entering a developmental writing class in college typically either failed miserably in high school writing class or had not seen the inside of a classroom for over 20 years.
Right away, I encouraged students to trust the process. If they did, they would learn to write and communicate more clearly, a great benefit in whatever career paths they chose. I focused on teaching structure in writing that transferred easily to whatever situation their future jobs presented.
As I encouraged students to trust the process of learning to write, I also worked to provide a consistent classroom structure to help them feel safe while building trust. I believed this structure would go a long way in not only developing them as writers but also in preparing them as individuals for life in the “real world.”
Little did I know that years later this same approach would also provide much-needed structure for my own kids both in their schoolwork and as individuals. The idea of consistent structure proved immensely helpful for my youngest son who, until we adopted him at age 9, knew nothing of structure.
In addition to experience in the classroom, years working in business services and from watching my husband climb the corporate ladder illustrated the necessity of structure for business success. Then, when my kids started playing organized sports, the need for consistent structure once again proved itself important.
Scripture also supports the need for structure. The Old Testament law attempted to provide structure to keep the Israelites from losing focus on God. Paul provides structure for speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:27. Several scriptures, Old and New Testament, provide structure for making decisions about tithing & giving (Numbers 18:25-29; Deuteronomy 26:1-10; Malachi 3:6-17; & 2 Corinthians 8-9). Even details about end-time events (Daniel & Revelation), while still quite mysterious, provide structure helping to identify the unfolding events leading to Jesus’ return.
Whether in the classroom, the corporate world, the baseball team, or a home, structure provides a safe arena for growth. In fact, structure is so important that God’s Word exists to provide us with a guide around which we can structure our living.
Perhaps the best way to understand the need for structure, though, exists in considering its absence. Over this past summer, I lost some sense of structure partially because of travel and partially because of summer vacation from school but largely because I failed to adapt to the changing season. As a result, my youngest son’s behavior became inconsistent, and he began to struggle in ways similar to when he first came to us. I even noticed the affects of lost structure in myself as well, realizing that my productivity both physically and mentally depended on consistent structure.
Humans need structure. We need the comfort of what to expect in order to be willing to experience the discomfort of growth. Some people need more structure than others, and needs vary by situation. Some people need others to establish structure, and some do well establishing their own. No one’s needs for structure are exactly the same, but everyone needs it to some extent.
The upcoming post “Creating Structure” looks at the essential elements of structure, the results that can be expected with appropriate structure, and why, even though we need it, we sometimes tend to resist structure.
DISCUSSION: How has the existence and/or absence of structure impacted your life?