The Best Way to Encourage Reluctant Writers

In 2009, Chris Hulleman of The University of Virginia and the Motivate Lab ran a study in which reluctant and developing ninth-graders were put into two groups in their science classes. One group (the control) supplemented their work in class with a 1-2 paragraph response each month that summarized what they’d learned while the other group (the value group) supplemented their work with a 1-2 paragraph response explaining how the topics they’d covered in class could potentially be relevant and valuable to them.

Outside of the paragraphs, everything else about their instruction was exactly the same, and yet the results at the end of the semester were anything but similar. The students in the value group saw their grade point averages soar nearly a point higher than the control and the grade gap between white and black students in the value group shrank by a staggering 65%!

Results of the study from The Motivate Lab
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Four Ways to Build Relationships with Students Through Their Writing

In recent years, research has begun to support what good teachers have known all along: Strong student/teacher relationships generally lead to strong learning outcomes.

For example, John Hattie in Visible Learning argues that establishing a positive teacher/student relationship is one of the most impactful things a teacher can do to speed student learning. His effect size of .72 for strong student/teacher relationship is nearly double his threshold of .40 for a highly effective practice, meaning that a good relationship can inspire nearly two years worth of growth in a single school year.

Image from The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching

The reasons for this are fairly simple and intuitive: When students feel close to teachers they are more willing to take risks, have higher motivation, and grow more engaged because they see the content of the class as more valuable and the teacher as more credible.

Where it gets tricky is the question of how we are supposed to build those relationships when our classes have so many students and our days have so little time. 

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