Thursday, May 5, 2022

Hurry up and wait, but what's worth waiting for? (Stereophonics)

Putting things on hold is a common student trait. Not just students, but that's what I see a lot of at school.

I have some students - yes, males, who really struggle with distant deadlines. Weeks go by and little, if anything, is happening along the way. Checkpoints come and go. Deadlines arrive and things that are cobbled together at the last minute often don't pass muster.

Procrastination is often seen as a time management or organisational inability, but research may be pointing at different reasons and therefore, different ways of helping students to overcome the trait.

Tim Pychyl, is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ontario, Canada. He’s conducted research on procrastination and he found that emotions rather than time management are frequently at the root of procrastination. Task avoidance doesn’t happen because students don’t know about the tasks—students avoid tasks because of the feeling associated with completing them - "We think that by putting things off, we’re going to feel better.”
There is a biological basis to this rationale. When we feel stressed about a task, our amygdala (the brain center that regulates emotion and perceives threats) responds by telling our body to avoid the situation causing us anxiety.

Procrastination is then a short-term solution as it provides a reinforcing, positive loop: stressful task, perceived threat, avoid stressful task, and feel better.

The good news is that there are some ways to help students overcome procrastination. The following is from an article on Edutopia.

Focus on one step. Breaking down large tasks into small steps is a surefire way to get the ball rolling.  Offering to help divide the task into small parts can be just the help your students need to see the path forward. 

Rewards after the task. Our brains crave dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, and prefer to repeat behaviors that make us feel good.  

Knowing the student and their moods. We all have times of day when we are most alert. Aim to schedule challenging tasks when a student is most focused and do not schedule them when they aren't!  Scheduling tasks during times of high energy will help students be most productive and lessen the opportunity for procrastination.

Reframe negative thoughts. Remembering forgiveness and compassion when students start to emotionally shut down because of feeling overwhelmed is important. 

Consistency is key. They go through long periods of procrastinating followed by a burst of energy and focus, often staying up all night to complete assignments.  Encouraging and rewarding sustained effort is important.  

Don’t wait until you “feel like it.” Many students procrastinate because they are waiting for just the right moment to get started. Just do it! We need to teach our students how to look beyond their feelings in the moment.

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