Each semester for the last four years I have taught Writing Lab, a course for students who score below proficient in writing on standardized tests. There are a lot of reasons students are placed into the course: maybe they didn’t try on the test (most claim this, but pretesting shows they are wrong), they have not been taught well in the past, they have family issues where writing is not on the top of their priorities, they have learning disabilities, or most of the time they have been told so many times they are bad at writing that they have simply given up.
To say that most of my students begin our semester together with a bad attitude is an understatement. The first thing I do in class is give them a pretest to double check that the students who are in the class are meant to be there. I would feel terrible if a student didn’t really need the class and we were simply jumping through hoops. Students work hard to get out of the class, but this rarely happens. We look at test scores and set goals to make sure students understand the outcomes they need to have upon finishing the course. This gives them a sense of purpose.
My other colleagues who also teach the course and I joke that Writing Lab goes through its own 12-step process. First, students must accept their need for the course, that they have no control over being in the course. Then they begin to understand that someone is there to help, their teacher. After this point in their process, they mellow out their behaviors and begin to do the work in class. Then they begin goal setting each piece of writing, writing their little hearts out, and begin asking for help.
By then end of the semester, most of my students don’t want to leave. They realize they have a safe place to write, to ask questions, and to be themselves through their writing. Each semester it puts me in awe at the process my colleagues and I have created. It is truly magical.