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!

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 #71: More Advice from Students

Here is more advice from my former students.   Some of them are very personal with what they share, and what their consequences were.

“Read your housing contract to see what happens if you break their rules.  I was thrown out of housing in the middle of my fall semester, but was obligated to pay for the entire contract anyway.  All I did was smoke a little weed in the room.  It didn’t hurt anyone.”

“If you are underage, don’t even hold a beer for anyone else.  The police saw me holding a red cup and busted me for underage drinking.  I’ve had beer before, but this time I was just holding it while a friend used the restroom.  I’m now on disciplinary probation and if I get caught doing anything wrong for the next year, I could be suspended from school.”

“If you’ve had a drink, don’t drive.  I got stopped for doing a rolling stop at the stop sign on campus, and they smelled alcohol.  Then I refused the breath test and my license was suspended.  My parents had to come pick up my car. ”

“Pizza every night tastes great, but if you’ve heard of the “Freshman 15″ don’t believe it.  You can gain 30 pounds in a semester if you aren’t careful.”

“Every party is not the best. party. ever. no matter what your friends say.  You’ve still got to study.  You’ve still got to get to class, even your morning classes.  Trying to learn chemistry with a hangover is impossible.  Just staying awake after two nights out is impossible.  I learned the hard way, with a 1.72 GPA.”

Student Success Strategy #71:  Listen to students who learned from their mistakes.  

Student Success Strategy #65: More Pet Peeves and How to Avoid Them

I’d like less for my money, please!

That’s what professors hear when you ask whether you’ll get out early from class.

That’s what professors hear when you are gathering up your papers and books and shoving them into your backpacks before the end of class.

That’s what professors hear when you start having conversations near the end of class rather than paying attention until the end.

Thank about it.  Where else would you want to get less than the most you can get for the same price?  Education is not like a bag of potato chips, where if you get the big size instead of single servings, some might get stale before you get to them (don’t try this in my house!).

You are paying for 50 minutes (or whatever length of time your class runs) of your professor’s prime time.  Not just off-the-cuff and casual meeting time, but prepared time in which to guide your intellectual growth.  Do you really want to cheat yourself out of a few minutes each class?

Think about the math:  Five minutes of wasted time in each class for a semester, figuring 30 class periods if you meet twice a week, is like giving up THREE full classes.  You are losing 10% of value in that class.

If you went to a fast food place and they said they’d only give you 90% of the food you bought, you wouldn’t be happy about that.  Or if you got a carton of eggs and in each carton, one or two eggs were broken and unusable, you wouldn’t be happy about that.

So why are students thrilled when they get out of class early, and why do they encourage the professor to end the class before it must end?

Student Success Strategy #65:  Get your money’s worth.  Show your professor that you want the full benefit of your educational opportunities.

Student Success Strategy #56: New Beginnings of Success

For many colleges and universities, today is the first day of the fall semester.  What does that mean to you?

In college, it often means that you find your classrooms, meet your professors, pick up a copy of the syllabus for each class, and buy your books.  Then you go back to your dorm, or back to your apartment, or back to your home, and do nothing toward your goal of graduation.

This year, make it better.

Read through that syllabus for each class.  Mark all the due dates for assignments and all the quiz and test dates and put them on a single, highly visible calendar.  Immediately you can see whether there are pockets of time where you will need to clear your other activities, and openings where you’ll have some time to relax.

Don’t forget to write in final exam dates and times, as they may be at times different from when you actually attend classes.

Now, mark in other important dates – birthdays you will actually celebrate with an event, weekends away, concerts you’ll attend, homecoming activities, and any other major time commitments or minor but important events.

Are there any conflicts?

Sort out your priorities now, when you are not caught up in the excitement of a friend urging you to ignore your long term goals in favor of an unplanned distraction.

By planning ahead and following through with an organized study plan, you can say “yes” to friends for some of those unplanned events – just not all of them.  And by creating this new beginning for yourself, YOU are in charge of your goals.

Student Success Strategy #56:  New Beginnings.  Take advantage of the beginning of the semester to make it successful.

Student Success Strategy #45: Time Management Part IV: Location Lists

You have three dozen things to do, classes to attend, errands to run, library research to conduct, reading to complete, laundry to wash, and three phone calls to make.

A to-do list is great, but there are ways to organize it that may be more efficient than a simple list.

Index cards or electronic note cards are great for organizing based on location.  What?  How do you organize your tasks, and more important, why?

If you organize by location, and you have some waiting time, you can go to the card that corresponds to where you are to see what can be done.

Stuck on campus with two hours between classes?  Pull out the card that says “campus” and find that you can make your phone calls, visit the library rather than doing everything online, or complete your reading.  Visit a campus office for information, or simply make an appointment with your advisor.

Are you on the way home and your roommate tells  you to stay away for another hour?  Do you have groceries to buy, phone calls to make, or notes to rewrite?

What if you are at home and your next class has been canceled?  Get that laundry done while you make phone calls or rewrite notes.

If you are not always settled into one place, organizing your to-do list by location that tasks may be completed is one way to help use those moments of free time between your scheduled events.

Student Success Strategy #45:  Location lists can be useful for filling in time you “find” during the day.