Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

The Struggle is Real (#2): Time Not Managed

0 4 922

Instead of class discussions, lectures, or assignments, this week I’m thinking a lot about students and time management.

We are five weeks into our fall semester and several of my classes are currently working on short (4-6 page) research papers. For many of my students this assignment is the first time they have conducted research at a college library. Some arrived in September well-prepared for the challenge while others are finding the assignment quite overwhelming. In a previous blog I described the short assignment I developed for my US I and II students as an introduction to secondary-source research. Thanks in part to the fabulous librarians at my college, I’ve had great success with this assignment. Students learn to use the articles and journals databases at the library, they critically analyze an historic image and they consider what it means for something to be “in historical context.”

After ten years of tweaking, the assignment is a well-oiled machine. The students get started with two class periods in the library classroom and have three weeks to complete the their work.

After eighteen years of college teaching, however, I still cannot figure out how to convey to my students the absolute necessity of managing their time effectively.

I know I’m not the only college professor who struggles against her students’ habit of procrastination. It’s a human quality that nearly all of us possess on some level. When I have a stack of exams to grade and the sun is shining brightly I too engage in an internal struggle over what needs to be done versus what I would like to be doing. Hats off to those super humans who can procrastinate and then do amazing work.

The time-management stakes are high for students. On average they are taking three to five courses concurrently, which means they have a lot of work to complete. At the community college where I teach students are acutely aware that maintaining a strong GPA will make the transfer process easier. Unlike myself who can plan course syllabi so that all of my grading does not have to be done at the same time, students have no say as to when assignments are due. On top of academics they are often juggling family and work responsibilities. Time management, then, is of the utmost importance.

And yet, I have no idea how to “teach” this life skill. I’m not convinced that it is even my responsibility to do so.

Each time I assign a research project I implore my students: “make a plan,” “come to my office hours for help,” “bring a draft to the Writing Center.” And I hear crickets.

As much as I have tried to impress upon them that I’m willing and available to help, almost no one asks me a single question until we are within 48 hours of the due date. How do I convince them that waiting till the last possible moment to start a research project is a recipe for disaster? Are there techniques that I could incorporate into my assignments that would force students to be better planners? And, how much time can I afford to spend away from content if I decide that time management must be a learning outcome for US History I or II? Is a lousy grade the most effective remedy for students who need to stop procrastinating?

I’m tossing these questions out to the Macmillan Community this week because I’m quite certain that everyone of us who teaches has spent considerable time thinking about how to solve the problem of student procrastination. Thoughts? Suggestions?

No crickets, please.

Migrated Account

The simple solution is to break the work into chunks and have incremental deadlines.

More interestingly, procrastination may be rational, especially for tasks like studying for exams.  The reason why is that humans naturally forget knowledge at a certain rate, and to minimize the amount of work needed to master content, the optimal solution is a bang-bang solution, or waiting until the very last second and then studying frantically.  A rocket ship pulled down by gravity doesn't take off early and cruise at low altitudes for the same reason.

Thanks for your comments Andrew. I'm curious how you would break down a 4-6 page paper into smaller increments?  The students have three weeks to complete the work and I do not want it to turn into a writing project versus a research project. Any suggestions?

Migrated Account

I don't really recall how the steps of a research project perfectly.  But, I think what I did was form a hypothesis, and then gather quotations or other sources around that hypothesis.  After that, I checked if my hypothesis was correct or needed revision and then repeated gathering more quotations.  Finally, I wrote the paper.  Do those steps sound similar to what you would do?  If so, maybe have the hypothesis due first and then a set of quotations.... If the steps are wrong, then maybe put the correct steps on incremental deadlines?

Migrated Account

Ok, I found the steps listed in the links.  You could require the students to submit the assignment step wise thereby disallowing procrastinating until 48 hours prior to the deadline.  I.e.  Introduction and Context are due week 1, Description and Speculation due week 2, and Conclusion and Citations due week 3.  Would that be workable? 

About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She currently serves as the vice president for the Eastern Division of the Community College Humanities Association (CCHA) and is at work on a study of the treatment of mental illness in early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.