Getting students off to a good start in a writing class means helping them set realistic expectations for the course. A quotation I copied from Carol Graham’s book Happiness for All? tells one good reason why we need to tell our students what we expect of them and what they can expect of us:
While individuals seem to be able to adapt to unpleasant certainty…they are much less able to adapt to change and uncertainty, even that which is associated with progress.
Most of my students enter my writing classes dreading it. I rarely (actually never) turn any of them into writing enthusiasts in the first session, but I do change their uncertainty about what the course will entail to certainty.
Just as Graham says, my students are able to adapt to “unpleasant certainty” reasonably well. And in doing that, they are able to make progress toward writing competently.