I’m going to be a little vulnerable. Early in my career, the most common result produced from the flow of my writing instruction was students developing an aversion to writing. Students weren’t rewarded unless they conformed to the high-stakes scoring guide and assignment parameters. At the same time, students were engaging in all kinds of low-stakes writing that was rewarding, to them at least: social media and text messaging.

Talking with other teachers over the years showed me that this was a common experience. Most of us struggle to get students motivated to write. And most of us aren’t even asking for students to like the academic writing we assign. We want them to maybe appreciate it or see some small value in how it develops them into better students on their way to college. But that rarely develops in students. Why?

Let’s take a closer look at two reasons students hate writing for you. 

1. Students were getting punished for their writing in my class. Think about it. Students were getting slammed when they turned in writing to me, writing they didn’t even want to do. The assignments were siff and academic. They were not natural to the students. And when they attempted to complete them, they were very clumsy with the work. The assignments were writing that they never had a chance to practice except when assigned.

In the past, all of my writing instruction would start with an essay prompt and end with a typed final draft. From start to finish, those assignments were full of anxiety because I stacked the deck in such a way that students would suffer big penalties in the grade book if they didn’t complete the assignment. Also, the scoring guides that went with the assignments tended to mostly point out what students did wrong, especially when their papers came back bloodied up with my red ink.

2. Students were getting rewarded for their writing among friends. When my students sent their friends text messages or social media posts, they would get rewarded with apt replies and ‘likes.’ And it seems that the less formal the writing, the more entertaining for the readers. The more entertaining for the readers, the more rewarding for the writer. And that’s why they keep doing it. It makes them feel good.

But we teachers have a way of ruining that for them. We say no to that kind of writing and try to convince them that is not the real kind of writing. They’re not buying it, no matter how passionately we explain it. We are not convincing them. Our writing just makes them feel bad.

The writing we want from students and the writing they want to do are going in two different directions. The difference between these types of writing makes me think of writing with my right hand versus my left hand. I can write with my left hand, but it takes a long time, it is really messy, and it’s fraught with frustration. That’s what academic writing is like for our students.

We need to meet students in the middle. We need to be able to call them up into better, more formal writing. But, at the same time, we need to allow them to write in a less formal manner. It is important that the students avoid developing an aversion to writing in our classes. That means that we need to find a way to accept more of their writing. Maybe even find something praiseworthy in it? When we find a middle way, we can help shape them into better academic writers over time.

How do you get students to not hate writing in your classroom? Let us know in the comment section below. Invite a friend into the discussion and share this post.

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