Procrastination (#79)

It’s not just students who procrastinate. Why do instructors preach deadlines, planning, and “just do it” when they don’t always perform to the same standard?

I think it’s disrespectful for students to ignore deadlines and then ask for special consideration or extra credit work to make up for any penalties they receive for late work. Most assignments are created to teach specific concepts or skills, and extra credit work only adds more work – for both the student and instructor. There is no corresponding extra learning.

It adds more work for the instructor to give special consideration as well, whether that means grading student work individually at a later time instead of as a batch at the deadline. Late assignments also have to be tracked separately, and often extra help must be given when the students either forget or never heard the full explanation.

Instructors are not exempt from being disrespectful through procrastination either. If students are expected to get their work in on time, then instructors should have it graded and ready to return within a reasonable time as well.

Students need feedback to learn whether they did an assignment well, and what should be improved. Their next assignment could depend on it. They need specific guidance to learn the right way – or a better way – to meet expectations. More on that specific guidance in a later post, but let’s make sure that instructors avoid the procrastination habit too.

The White Carpet Theory of Learning (#78)

My theory is that learning is immensely improved when we focus on one thing at a time. While we love to say we can multitask, it really isn’t possible given the way our brains work. Instead, we shift our focus back and forth, losing concentration, time, and effectiveness with each change.

Students will say that they can’t focus on only one thing at a time. They have grown up with personal technology, active social lives, and heavily scheduled activities, and doing only one thing at a time seems too slow, as if they were driving 20 miles per hour on the highway.

When they are studying, they glance at their phones for incoming texts, keep Facebook on their computer screens, and have music playing. “It’s how I do it,” they say. Then they complain about how much time it takes to study, yet they don’t remember what they read.

My white carpet theory is this: Remember the last time you were at someone’s house, carrying a plate of food. Picture their white carpeting, and the slow motion of your food sliding off your plate, tumbling through the air, droplets of gravy or butter sauce, chunks of vegetables, and slices of rare meat falling, falling toward the floor. It seemed like minutes, yet you couldn’t move fast enough to catch anything and avoid the stains developing and spreading.

Can you remember every drop, every piece, every color and texture of your food being attracted as if magnetized by that carpet? Of course. And you remember each person who was there to witness the accident. And exactly where you were standing. And how you felt.

So if you can remember all those details of something that took only seconds of your attention, why can’t you do the same with studying?

Instead of trying to study for an hour, set an alarm for ten minutes. Or even five. Then use this same power of concentration to focus solely on your work, picturing each thought of the text in your mind. As soon as the alarm sounds, stop studying and walk away.

A few moments later, test yourself to see whether you remember more of what you read.

Repeat as necessary.

You can do it!

A New Chapter in Student Success (Post #77)

I am sitting at a desk only temporarily mine, shifting into a cubicle for a while until a remodeling is completed, then moving into an office at a new job as a lead instructor and facilitator, an advisor and mentor, a trainer and administrator at a career college. 

The numbers are lower – from 60,000 students at my former university, to just over 400 here.  There are fewer degrees offered, although unlike many career colleges, this one offers degrees rather than certificates.  Students complete an associate’s degree including their general education courses, giving them a well-rounded education as well as skills in a specific career field. 

Also unlike many career colleges, we are a not-for-profit educational institution, meaning that we answer to the goals of education rather than the interests of shareholders. 

It’s a unique opportunity to reach out to students who have a career path in mind, who are willing to work hard to develop themselves beyond the basic skills.  Our students are guided by principles of self-actualization, self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the self-fulfilling prophesy that if they believe in themselves and work toward their dreams, they will succeed.

I am looking forward to learning even more about helping these students find their success through education and move onward to a satisfying career and fulfilling life.  I will be sharing my insights on what helps these students, and whether there is a difference in needs among undergraduate students at large research universities and small career colleges.

I hope you’ll follow and add your thoughts, comments, and questions, to mine.

 

Student Success Strategy #76: Finals!

How do you study for finals?  Consider these four students:

Adam crams the night before a final exam, sometimes using energy drinks or coffee to stay up most of the night.  He hasn’t fallen asleep and missed any finals yet, but that’s one of his worries.  He keeps three alarm clocks set for an hour before the test so he can be sure to get to the classroom in time.

Bailey talks a lot about studying, but by the time the final comes, she reads a few notes and skims through her books, then figures that if she doesn’t know it by then, that nothing will help at that late time.  She goes into the final with an attitude of doing the best she can without good studying, and promising to do better next semester.

Cory sets aside time every day during finals week to focus just on one class.  He knows his friends are out having more fun than he is, but he spends at least three hours the day before his exam to prepare.  He feels good walking into the exam, but has a nagging feeling that he’s missed something important.

Dana spends one hour each week on each of her classes, beyond any assignments, to go over all her notes, improve them when she can, and write a few questions that would seem to be something that could show up on the final.  By the time finals week comes, she reads through her notes, spends about an hour a day on each class until that final is done, adding one extra hour sometimes for an especially stressful class, and thinks she is fairly well prepared.

Who gets the best finals grades?  Who feels the best during the break between semesters?

Which strategy do you use, or do you have something else that works for you?

Student Success Strategy #76:  Think of preparing for final exams as an obligation.  Pay a little at a time through the semester, or pay during finals week.  In either case, you pay.  But what you earn – and learn – from your payment is up to you.

Student Success Strategy #75: Make Your Degree Worth More

Yesterday, I had the privilege of assisting with the induction ceremony for The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi at the University of Central Florida.  As the immediate past chapter president, I did not participate in the ceremony itself, but managed the logistics and was able to talk with many families about the honor that their student had earned.  There were some interesting conversations about what it means to earn membership in this highly selective honor society.

First, it means that the student excels as a test taker, reader, project manager, team member, writer, speaker, thinker and all those things that are required as a student.

Second, it means that as these students graduate and move into their careers, their accomplishments reflect back on their schools.  Great employees and entrepreneurs come from great education.  As these students improve their workplaces, their communities, and their fields of endeavor, they reflect that quality back.

Thus, their schools can claim quality students and earn the reputation of quality education, and that makes a degree from those schools more desired by employers.   Graduates of those schools then benefit from the reputation of their university.  Some will even receive higher starting salaries because of this reputation of excellence.

It’s a circle of quality, brought on by the collaboration of students, faculty, staff, families, and employers.

The next time you consider slacking off on an assignment, think about the big picture.  If you work harder to be a better student, you learn more, your productivity on the job increases, and your degree may be worth more, even with a possibility of earning more money because of it.

But even beyond that, the next time you wonder whether to take the time to help another student learn, remember that their productivity also reflects on your degree!

Student Success Strategy #75:  Make your degree worth more.   Make it a win-win situation by promoting excellence among all students.

Student Success Strategy #74: Gearing up for Finals!

The semester is about two-thirds done by now, and you are feeling the post-midterm slump.  You have lost some of your motivation and excitement from classes, even those within your areas of interest.  Don’t stop now!

Even if you are happy with your progress throughout the semester, and your grades so far, you need to find a way to gear up for finals.

This is a great time to refine your study habits.

Have you been keeping up with all your assignments?  Make it a goal to finish those in the next few weeks two days early, and use the two extra days to review material from the first weeks of class.

Have you been taking great notes?  After reviewing them in the evening after your class, take an extra ten minutes to review notes from the beginning of the semester, going through two or three class periods of notes each night.

Have you been studying alone?  Make arrangements for a session or two with a friend in the class, and see whether your early notes can be combined for even greater understanding.  Then discuss what is left of the semester and how to keep each other on track.

Having a study partner, whether you actually study together or just check in with each other, can help you maintain progress throughout the semester.  A simple question – “Did you finish your work yesterday?” – can remind you that even a single day lost may make a difference.  Letting each other know what you need to do, and including an early review of material long past, can set you up for easier times near finals week.

Learning, and remembering what you have learned, is easier with frequent repetition and review rather than cramming.  Start now, and you won’t have to stress over the approach of final exams.

Student Success Strategy #74:  Gear up for finals.  Do it early.  Do it easy.  

Student Success Strategy #73: And finally, random advice!

A few last bits of advice from my students, who often wrote just one line of advice or information.

“Never underestimate the wrath of a roommate who didn’t get a date.”

“Homecoming events include lots of free stuff.”

“Go to the football games for the tailgate parties.  Then skip the games.”

“Carry an umbrella and a plastic bag with you to protect your books.”

“Carry your ID everywhere.”

“Your legs will stick to the chair if your shorts are too short.”

“If you find a parking space, never leave.”

“Offer to pay for some of the gas rather than driving your car.  The driver will appreciate it and you don’t risk having your car trashed.”

“Don’t leave a drunk friend alone, even if you have to leave the party early.”

“Bring lots of underwear and you can avoid laundry until Mom comes to visit.”

“Don’t drink things you don’t like.  If it’s something you need to ‘develop a taste for’ then either don’t drink it or admit you just want to get drunk.”

“Drinking games are more fun for the spectators than the drinkers.”

“Decide what you want your spring break to be.  If it’s a vacation, don’t take any books home with you.  If it’s a way to catch up or get ahead on assignments, don’t waste all your time sleeping or partying with your old friends.  If you want to do something completely different, look into the Alternative Spring Break volunteer programs.”

Student Success Strategy #73:  Listen to random advice from former students.