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.

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 #58: It’s Raining!

As I write this, Tropical Storm Isaac is moving away from Florida and headed for New Orleans.  Florida is getting rain, a little wind, and there is a threat of tornado formation.  Students are not thrilled to be walking around campus in this kind of weather, and some will decide to skip classes.

Don’t.  Just don’t.  Your professors will be in class, and they will not be pleased that you didn’t make the effort to be there too.  Oh, they will remember skipping classes when they were undergraduates, but they won’t be sympathetic to your desire to stay dry.

For those of you in areas where rain is common, put a large plastic bag inside your backpack and just leave it there.  Someday you can use it to protect your books so even if your backpack gets wet, your books won’t.  Wear it as a poncho if you need to.  There will be others looking just as dorky as you, wearing garbage bags to stay dry.  If you can’t bring yourself to do that, keep an umbrella in your backpack, but we warned that if it has a metal shaft, it becomes a lightning rod and is not safe to use in electrical storms.  The wind may also turn it inside out.

Do you really think anyone is looking at you hurrying into a building in the rain?  They are trying to get inside themselves, and are only looking up enough to avoid running into you.  Once inside, you can remove your garbage bag poncho and be comfortable, while they will be waterlogged and miserable.

Most important, though, is that you made it to class.  Not only do you not miss important information, you have made a good impression on your professor.  Take this opportunity to ask a question, make a comment, or do something to let the professor know you are still focused on learning, even if your shoes have an inch of water inside and your toes are turning into wrinkled prunes.  Turn in your assignments, take notes, and congratulate yourself on braving the elements to maintain progress toward your goals.

Every impression on your professor makes a difference in how they see you.  Do you need a letter of recommendation for a student government position?  They will remember your dedication and effort to do what it takes to complete your obligations.  Do you need just a few extra points to raise your grade?  Knowing that you care about your education may be enough for the bump to the next grade.

Student Success Strategy #58:  It’s raining!  Be prepared for inconveniences.  Go to class anyway.

Student Success Strategy #32: Office Hours Part II

Do you have a test coming up soon?  If your professor doesn’t give a study guide or go over exactly what will be on the test, go to office hours.

First, read the syllabus!  Find out what you already know about the test, then formulate questions that will clarify your knowledge.

Ask for advice.  “If I study chapters 3 and 4 plus the notes from class, will that cover what is on the test?”  “Will information from our guest speaker be covered?”

Don’t just ask what will be on the test, although that may get you some information.  Show that you are a better student, and go in with a tentative study plan that you and the professor can review and revise.  You’ll have a  head start on a format for your studying, and will not only impress your professor, but can make notes on it as you speak.  Your professor will see that you plan ahead, critically think about the class, and want to do well.

You can ask the format of the test.  What kinds of questions will there be?  Multiple choice?  True-false?  Essay?  Matching?  Short Answer?  Ask for the professor’s ideas on what is expected from the essay or short answer.  Are the matching questions one-for-one matches, or could there be some duplicate answers, or some not used at all?

Student Success Strategy #32:  Use office hours to prepare for tests.

Student Success Strategy #31: Office Hours Part I

Are you a little intimidated about speaking with your professor outside of class?  Many freshmen are, and sometimes it doesn’t change throughout your entire college career.  Many students never go to a professor’s office hours.  If that’s the case, you have missed out on a wonderful experience.

Office hours are scheduled times when the professor is available to the students, and there are several reasons to take advantage of them.

Do you have a specific question about class or an assignment in that class?  If you don’t want to ask it in front of your fellow students, use office hours, and you’ll have the professor’s full attention to your question.  You can follow-up with more questions if needed.

You can even ask the professor to glance over an assignment in progress to tell you whether you are on the right track.  Why not do that early, so if you need to make changes, you have plenty of time?  This is your chance to get some inside information as well.

Ask how the assignment will be graded, and get examples of what is expected.  Does the professor mark every grammatical mistake, every misspelled word and every unnecessary comma?  Does the professor require a thesis statement, three supporting paragraphs, and a reflective conclusion?  Even if these ideas are in the syllabus, it doesn’t hurt to discuss your ideas on the assignment before it’s due.

Using office hours to meet with your professor also gives you “face time” for the professor to get to know you as a student and as a person.  Think about how you feel about a new friend as you get to know them.  The more you know, the more you like them.  While grading is more objective than liking or not liking a student, having the professor know you better than others never hurts.  Going to office hours shows that you are a more serious student than those who don’t go, and that could be worth a point or two.

Student Success Strategy #31:  Use your professor’s office hours to learn more about expectations on assignments.

Student Success Strategy #24: Integrity is more than not cheating

One of the core values of many educational institutions is integrity, yet our students may not know what it really means.  Most students will readily state that integrity means not cheating, but there is so much more.

What should a student do if they see another student cheating?  Peer pressure is strong, and most students will hesitate before considering whether they should report it.  What happens during those moments?

The student thinks:

10:15  Did I really see cheating, or was that just a random glance toward the general direction of someone else’s test?

10:17  If I report it, will the student hate me?  Will I be a target later in the semester?

10:20  If I don’t report it, can I forget about it?  What does it really matter to me anyway?

10:22  I need to think about the grading system.  If grading is strictly on a point system, what that student receives doesn’t affect me at all.  If it’s a grading curve, could it push my grade lower as theirs moves higher?

10:24  Considering all that, what should I do?  Time is running out on my test, and I need to focus on my own answers.  Maybe I’ll mention something after class.

10:29  Whew!  I finished the test in time and I’ll be happy to get out of the room and forget the whole thing.

10:30 I’m outta here! Where’s the nearest food?

And many students do forget the whole thing.  Not just the answers on the test, but anything else they saw, including cheating.  They may have a twinge of guilt when the tests are returned, especially if they are able to see the other student’s score, but by then they’ve convinced themselves it is too late to say anything.  If the other student got a better score, it may look like jealousy.  If they got a worse score, it may feel a bit like justice.

In either case, the professor may never know what happened.

So what is integrity?  Should students report instances of cheating or other violations of integrity?  Is their own integrity affected by this?

Student Success Strategy #24:  Integrity is more than not cheating.  Students should consider what integrity means to them.

Student Success Strategy #18: But I worked so hard!

You’ve just put in weeks days hours on a big assignment, and you feel exhausted, but you got it done and on time.  You turn it in and expect to see that A when it’s returned to you.

After a week, you get it back.  B.  There’s a big red B on your paper!  How unfair, after all that work you put into it.

What do you do?

“Professor, I don’t understand why I got a B on this paper.  I worked so hard!”

Option A:  Get angry and frustrated and demand to know what in the world that professor was thinking, giving you a grade like that.

Option B:  Ask to meet with your professor to go over her thoughts on your paper, and to ask for her help in future assignments.

Option C:  Do nothing and accept the B.  Don’t risk making the professor angry or defensive.

The best answer is B.  Professors have something in mind when they create assignments, and you need to know what they are looking for.  Did the assignment call for something you forgot?  Were you supposed to add citations, or a closing argument, or follow a strict format?  Did you need a thesis statement and three supporting examples, or did you forget to proofread?  Did you read the syllabus for hints?

Think of it this way:  Would you be happy giving your car mechanic an A grade (and a big check) if they worked very hard, but didn’t fix what was wrong with your car?  No?  But they worked so hard!

Student Success Strategy #18:  But I worked so hard!  So what?   If you want to get a better grade, ask how to do it!

You’ll also impress your professor that you want to learn, not just get by.  And your next grade?  I’m guessing it will be better.