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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


  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!