Students write very differently based on different expectations about whether they will have to share it. For instance, these are all different kinds of writing:
- Writing that is just for their own processing
- Writing that only the instructor will read
- Writing that will be shared with peers, but not seen by the instructor
- Writing that will be shared with both the instructor and peers
- Writing that will be graded
- Writing that will not be graded
When students have to show work to people they weren’t expecting to show it to, that can be embarassing. It can be embarassing because it contains information they’d rather not share widely, or because it isn’t yet polished to an extent that makes them comfortable showing it to others.
To give an example:
- Teacher: Ok, everyone, take 40 minutes and write a short story about a childhood pet.
- (40 minutes later)
- Teacher: Ok, pass your story to the person sitting next to you. Everyone check everyone else’s grammar.
- This makes several students very uncomfortable, for these reasons:
- Bob is terrible at grammar and insecure about it. He focused on getting a draft of the story first, not expecting that someone would be taking a red pen to his grammar mistakes. He would have focused on grammar if he’d known it would be a grammar exercise.
- Susan’s story is about a time her dog ripped up her favorite doll and made her cry. She doesn’t want all of her peers to know that story because some of them will tease her about it. She would have written something less private if she’d known peers would see it.
- James couldn’t think of a story about his pets and spent the whole time writing how frustrated he was that he couldn’t do the assignment. He doesn’t want his classmate to see that he failed at the assignment.
- Val didn’t have a real pet and so she wrote about an imaginary robot. She doesn’t know if that counts or not, and is afraid that another student will think she did it wrong.
- Bruce decided to write a story in a style he’d never tried before, and isn’t happy with the result. He doesn’t want to show his first attempt to a peer. He would have done something he was more familiar with if he’d known.
Short version: When you assign writing assignments to your students, tell them who will be reading them. In particular, if students will be expected to show their work to peers, warn them ahead of time so that they can make an informed choice about what to write.