I'll keep updating this post.
Typing vs. Handwriting: Unfamiliar Methodology Hurts the Writing Process
I've discovered that many students in basic writing classes write much, much better in every way if they don't have to type.
My demand that students type their out-of-class assignmets did elicit some typed papers. I was shocked at the bad punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
I was even more shocked when I had the students write some papers by hand in class. The quantity of grammatical and mechanical errors in their writing was greatly reduced.
I had to sit back on my heels and think. I know the students didn't copy from each other; I was sitting right there watching them write.
They would be much more in a position to cheat on an outside typed assignment than something handwritten under my nose in class!
This is a clue that too unfamiliar a writing method disrupts many students' reproduction of standard grammar and mechanics principles.
Of course the students must learn to type their papers, but that means thinking in type, and they think in handwriting. I now believe that as a teacher I need to be attuned to this problem and give them specific helps to guide them through the transition to thinking in type.
Better Thinking May Happen on In-Class Assignments
I also have gotten more thoughtful papers when I had the students spend a class period writing. I let students ask me questions as they write, because normally one student's question is in the heads of most of the other students. My support has enabled the students to concentrate and get interested in what they are doing.
My conclusion: In many students' homes, the whole situation is not conducive to the extremely concentrated, create-something-out-of-nothing situation necessary to produce a written piece. I can make that situation available in a classroom.
Also, because students in a college basic (remedial) course are already upset and fearful that they just can't write, the lack of professional support at home makes them slow to approach the assignments, and prone to discouragement.
Supported, periodic, supervised in-class writing has produced the best results for me. I don't have students write whole papers in every class period by any means, but I do it often enough to get the students accustomed to the necessary warm-up-and-settle-down period, followed by the concentrated writing process.
Students Need to Know How to Take a Mini-Break
I train my students to let themselves take a bathroom break or just stare at the wall from time to time, so as to rest during writing, instead of telling themselves they have to press on even when they feel like they can't stand it. They have to be told they need rest; they don't know it because no one has ever said it to them before. They think they are just supposed to soldier on from start to finish. Understanding that periodic mini-refreshment is a need, not a luxury, helps them relax and tackle their writing with more efficiency.