Some people on the WPA list have commented on low-stakes versus high-stakes writing: in which situations do students put the most effort.
In response, I imagined another continuum: real and fake communication. I’m engaged in some real communication there–although the rhetorical situation is, let’s say, strained. I’ll put it bluntly: I don’t think we’re helping our students by putting them in fake communicative situations, when what we’re really doing is creating data to justify whatever grade we give them. Writing simply doesn’t work that way. It works by having something serious to say to readers (real or imagined) who care about what the writer is saying. I might have this backwards–but I do know that real writing is from me to you and back again. The “you” can be a friend, a lover, a collection of people in a class, or the world. But no matter what the level of generalization, the you has to be real. When it’s fake, you get bad writing.
A couple of years ago, my students at LSU wrote a book about their writing experiences. I’m going to post the link here. Some apologies are due: they make me look like a good teacher. Truth is: they made me a good teacher. My point here is that all of the writing was low-stakes, ungraded, leaving the students the freedom to explore their emotions and ideas through writing. You might be able to use portions of this book with your students.