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You can’t do that assignment in one day.

favicon I just finished my 15-page research paper for my library science class. It frightened me. After all, I hadn’t written anything that long since college. So I made sure to begin writing six days before the due date.

Yes, how very adult of me.

My planning helped: I stayed mostly on schedule and finished the paper yesterday with time today to tinker with citations and references and those annoying things.

This means that I also had time to help my students with their three-page essay, due tonight at 11 p.m., which I assigned last Monday and which 95 percent of my students likely began today.

You might think my students suffer from procrastination. I don’t think that’s it. Rather, I think my students think all assignments take one day and deserve one draft, no matter their length, no matter their difficulty.

I have to figure out ways to infiltrate that thinking and get my students to plan ahead.

One way is to build in more checkpoints. For example, I could establish more due dates along the way so that students understand that a large assignment should be broken up into smaller parts. This strategy, however, does the thinking for the students, and does nothing to prepare them for college.

Another thing I could do is suggest a timeline or have my students come up with their own. Earlier in the year, we did this in class to create a reading schedule for one of the novels. Some of my students struggled with making a plan, but they appreciated the activity.

Nevertheless, in order for a schedule to work, you have to stick to it, and my students sometimes think they can do more than what’s possible in a day. So what’s crucial is to get my students to be honest with themselves about how long it takes them to complete a task.

The problem with doing that, of course, is that it might overwhelm me. I might find out that even if my students spend 60+ minutes on my class every night, they still won’t complete  the work.

(I think I’ve stumbled on what might be the truth: Many of my students are working 7+ hours a week on my class — and yet that’s not enough, and we have to figure out ways to find more time and to work more efficiently.) favicon

3 comments

  1. John at TestSoup

    The “everything takes one day” idea is definitely something that too many students suffer from, especially in college. Then again, it takes a lot of effort to parcel out work over time.

    During the month of November, I experimented with NaNoWriMo (where you try to crank out a novel in 30 days). I say “experimented” because technically I did not succeed. I wrote about half as many words as the contest requires. But at least I wrote something. 51 pages of something.

    This, of course, is not something you can do in one day. The way I balanced the workload was this: I took stock of how much I needed to write. Then I broke it up into smaller units. For a book, this is easy (chapters). And then I realized that if I wanted to complete my project I would need to write an average of one chapter every two days.

    Writing a whole book in one day is impossible. But writing a chapter in one day was very doable. So I would take a day for writing and then a day for rest.

    The milestones made my crazy book-writing experiment a possibility. I had never done anything like this before.

    Sometimes the milestones would get all jumbled up, but they still helped a tremendous amount.

    I think teaching your students to break up larger projects into smaller ones would be a supremely valuable skill if they ever plan on taking on larger projects. Since many of your students sound like they are from blue-collar families (sorry to generalize), the natural analogy is building something. There are natural milestones there.

  2. Mark Isero

    Thank you, John. I find it interesting that I want to learn ways to teach my students to break up larger assignments into smaller parts — and then I have trouble with large tasks, too, like writing a book or running a marathon.

Please share your brilliant insights!