Quick Responses to Students Who Refuse to Write, Revise, or Peer Review

Today’s post is short but sweet with ready made answers to areas where students commonly resist writing or the writing process. Without any additional preamble, let’s begin with three common classroom scenes followed by ways a teacher can often respond effectively.


A student is asked to do a short/free write on a topic in class. The student is given 5, 10, or 15 minutes, and yet after only a third of that time the student is sitting there with pen or pencil down on the paper. When approached the student states simply that he/she/they is “done.” 

I don’t know about you, but this is one of the hardest moments for me to respond to in my class. What makes it tricky is that I know why I assigned the writing prompt–private, ungraded writing is a perfect place to experiment and find one’s voice; writing helps students to learn content faster; and when pen goes to paper, our thinking gets more organized, we make interesting connections, and thoughts that we didn’t even know existed appear out of nowhere–but explaining those complexities to a resistant student in a class full of silently writing kids is pretty much impossible.

With this in mind, my response to this is actually a preemptive one. Early in the semester, before our first in-class writing, I share the following article, which articulates incredibly well in a student-friendly way why classroom writing that will never be turned in is as essential as the polished pieces that get grades. The discussion that follows forms a foundation that I can refer to quickly when I see a student not writing. Often, all it takes is a simple “writing creates thinking” and they begrudgingly pick up the pen/pencil and soldier on.

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A pdf of Why Everyone Should Write by Morgan Housel


A student is overheard or even directly says to you that “I only do one draft,” belieiving that to be a reasonable writing process. 

I wrote about this in much greater detail in my post Writing is Revising, and the method I describe works wonderfully for most, but for those harder cases, my prescription for you is simply some Anne Lamott.

For those who haven’t encountered Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird-by-Bird or its uproarious essay “Shitty First Drafts,” it is worth a read. Here is a link to it with some discussion questions attached from the University of Kentucky. And here is an excerpt, so you can get a sense of it:

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Now, it should be mentioned that its original form is filled with salty language (I figure that you guessed that by now) and some sensitive topics (you likely got that too), so definitely read it fully first and do any necessary scrubbing to get it to a level where you are unlikely to get angry calls. But don’t scrub too much, as her sarcastic tone is an absolute winner in getting kids to remember the importance of having numerous rounds of true revision. In my composition classes, which are composed of upper-level high school students, I don’t change it at all, but we do have a conversation about why a serious author would chose to write in such a style, and this discussion is often one of the most interesting studies of tone and diction of the entire semester.


A student refuses to engage in the peer review process, arguing that he/she/they never gets any good comments and that the teacher is the only one who can reasonably comment on his/her/their paper. 

In my post about how to train students in peer review, I go into how training can help nearly every student to become a highly effective peer reviewer, but what I don’t mention is that increasing the quantity of quality feedback is only one reason why peer review is so important. An equally important reason is that regularly acting as a peer reviewer also makes students better metacognitive judges of their own writing. This article on the writing site Glimmer Train by University of Michigan instructor Jeremiah Chamberlin is an exceptionally good base from which to construct an argument to students about how the analysis that they do on the papers of others will do just as much for them as it will the for the recipients. Here is an excerpt:

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I often share excerpts of this piece and discuss how due to our competitive nature as a species, when we read the work of others in our class, we start a mental comparison that forms the foundation of improving our ability to better revise our own work. Further, once we can put into words why elements of another piece do or don’t work, those same words suddenly appear for our own writing too!

 


Thanks as always for reading!

Yours in teaching,

Matt

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