Crunchy on the Outside, Crunchy on the Inside
Do you work at a community college or high school? Are they full time students taking a full load of classes and or working, too? Maybe, since so many students were unclear about the assignment, you ought to have them repeat it back to you before leaving the room (seems to work better to get the attention of my 7th grader!). Also, the very act of writing is complicated and difficult. Do your students have a "learning center" at which to get help for their questions when you're not available?
I work at a 4-year college, not high school, not CC. These are not students who need methods for 7th graders but need to stop talking while i am talking, keep track of and actually fucking read detailed assignment sheets given to them well in advance and use email instead of just IMing their friends and looking up rap lyrics on the Internet. My students are not deprived and have help all over the place they refuse to use--a Writing Center and nightly and daily tutoring no one attends until the last 2 weeks of the semester. As much as i can, i help the students who struggle. But it is up to the college to support the students it admits and it does not do that.
(Some of our students probably should be at community colleges. Our school needs an arrangement/agreement with one of the CCs here. It has refused to do that.)
The "complicated and difficult" part of writing i handle by doing stages and small steps in the classroom that are combined into papers. If students keep up with (okay, if they do) the reading, come to class, ask questions, do the small group work, turn in the homework and in-class work completed and on time, i have scaffolded them into several small writing assignments and a few larger assignments, including MLA documentation and library database research, by the end of the semester. When they don't come, don't ask questions, don't buy the books (and not b/c of cash--book vouchers are easy to get and wait for some students all semester long every semester), don't look at the assignment sheet before they ask when it's due and the due date is centered in bold 16 point type.......