Lots Of Essays Cancel

A few years ago another academic and I were walking with a student (“Kiki”) who said that she always handed in essay assignments two weeks after they are due — the last day before she would receive a 0. Each time she lost 20% of the total possible points due to an automatic penalty of 2% per work day late. Over the long run she was ruining her chances of going on to postgraduate study. The other academic walking with us started to tell Kiki that the university had now extended the penalty period to three weeks with a maximum penalty of 30%, but I elbowed him right away and shook my head. I knew that if Kiki heard this news she would change to submitting three weeks late and suffer an extra 10% penalty. I knew that because I understand phobias, and Kiki had one — essay-writing phobia.

This phobia involves fear and avoidance of writing an assigned essay and/or submitting the essay. In addition to lateness penalties, the avoidance can lead to last-minute writing with its attendant stress, poor quality, and low marks. This phobia is more common than you might think.

What causes essay-writing phobia? The causes are similar for all types of phobias. The main factors likely to contribute here are genetic, biological predispositions to feel anxious, perfectionism in general, setting an unrealistically high goal for the essay, low self-efficacy for writing in general or for the specific essay, and low levels of self-control. Two other possible factors: Avoidance helps the person feel much better in the short run by reducing anxiety, and avoidance with frantic last-minute writing gives the person an ego-protecting excuse for earning a low mark.

So what is the way out of essay-writing phobia? I’ll suggest 10 strategies in order of value for most individuals:

1. Change your goal to something realistic and valuable, like doing your best under the circumstances or submitting on time or ending your avoidance. Put aside goals of being perfect and impressing the heck out of someone.

2. Gradually expose yourself to what you fear. Write the easiest part of the essay first — start with your name or the title. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Then write the next easiest part and so on, all the way to submitting. Praise yourself for courage at each step. Use my favorite definition of courage: Doing the right thing even tho scared. There is a great deal of research evidence that gradual exposure helps eliminate phobias.

3. Discuss your fears with someone who cares about your welfare or write in a journal about your fears. Bringing them out in the open will help you deal with them.

4. Calm yourself thru deep breathing, meditation, or some other means.

5. Focus on the task at hand — tell yourself what to do next on the assignment. Think that you are writing a draft that you will improve later, if necessary. Positive thoughts often lead to positive behavior.

6. Challenge self-defeating thoughts such as “Ï can’t do this” by thinking clearly about what “this” is and by looking for evidence from the past about whether you can do it.

7. Think of times you have written good essays and submitted on time.

8. Think of how you overcame some fear before in your life.

9. Think of individuals you admire who acted bravely.

10. Write while naked. This change of procedure might give you a new perspective, along with a anxiety-reducing chuckle.

Those are my thoughts. For a case study describing treatment of essay-writing phobia, see http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0005796786900422.

What helps you reduce essay writing fear and avoidance?

John Malouff, PhD,
Associate Professor of Psychology

Why You Should Give Way Less Homework

I think we teachers tend to view homework as our sacred cow. Or at least some of us do.

And, believe me, I really do understand the value of homework. As a math teacher, I firmly believe students need to practice on their own, and homework is a great way for them to see if they can solve problems on their own without the teacher’s help.

But while I believe homework is important, I’ve also come to realize that the amount of homework we give is important too.

And, unfortunately, we often give way too much homework.

Here’s why…..

Why We Should Give Less Homework

  1. Busywork is a waste of everyone’s time. If the homework we’re assigning is busywork (and, let’s be honest, sometimes it is), then it really is a waste of everyone’s time. It waste’s the students’ time doing it, the parents’ time helping it, and our time tracking and possibly even grading it. Just because a worksheet is part of the curriculum (or even came with a Teachers Pay Teachers lesson), doesn’t mean that we need to assign it. If it doesn’t serve a vital purpose, then what’s the point?

  2. More work doesn’t necessarily mean more learning. Sometimes we assign homework because we feel like it’s the studious thing to do. But just assigning more work isn’t necessarily going to mean our students learn more. Especially if the work is busywork, and especially if the student is already overwhelmed or if they don’t know how to do it correctly.

  3. Students can be overwhelmed if the homework is too long. The tough thing about homework is that the time it takes students to complete it is immensely different. What takes a sharp kid 5-10 minutes can take a struggling kid 45 minutes or even an hour. So imagine how a struggling student feels when he looks at a two-sided worksheet of 30 math problems that he doesn’t understand. The sheer volume of work is incredibly intimidating and often causes him to give up before he even tries.

  4. When you limit the quantity, you can expect more quality. When you limit how much homework you give and/or how long the assignments are, then you can expect the students to do quality work on what you do assign.

  5. Because family time is valuable. If we truly want our students to have strong families, then we need to not take up all their family time with homework. And, yes, I know that for lots of students it’s the TV that’s their companion at night instead of their parents. But that’s not how it is with all the students. There are definitely families out there who want to relax together in the evening but simply cannot do so because the kids are entrenched with homework.

  6. Less homework means less tracking and grading for you. If this were the only reason for giving less homework, then it would not be a very good one. But as it stands, there are lots of great reasons to give less homework, and this one is just a little perk for us teachers. 🙂

How to Give Less Homework

Okay, if you’re still reading then you’re at least intrigued by the thought of giving less homework. But exactly how to do that can be a bit challenging.

When I was teaching our administrators were continually pushing us to give less homework. Sometimes that would come in the form of a memo stating “You must immediately reduce the amount of homework you give by half.” I have to admit, I did not like getting those memos. They were a bit intimidating and pretty overwhelming to try to implement. But over time I found some great ways to reduce my homework and ended up being much happier with the results.

Here are a few things that helped me reduce my homework. I hope they can help you, too.

  1. Eliminate all busywork. Sounds simple, but the problem is that we don’t always recognize busywork for what it is. So before you assign anything, ask yourself what the point is of the assignment. If it doesn’t have a definite point and isn’t absolutely necessary, then don’t assign it.

  2. Assign as few problems or questions as possible. Instead of assigning all the problems in the book – or even half of them, I started to just assign 6 or 7 problems per section. This was the smallest number that I felt would still give them the practice that they needed. So instead of just assigning a whole worksheet ask yourself what is the smallest number of questions they can complete that will give them the knowledge or skills that they need.

  3. Ask students to write down how long each assignment took them to complete. Simply ask them to track this at the top of each assignment. While their answer won’t be completely accurate, they should give you a general idea. Pay special attention to how long it’s taking your struggling students to complete their assignments. If it’s taking too long, then you’ve really got to get creative to figure out how you can shorten it. And remember, the goal is to give as little as possible, not to add more if your students are getting it done quickly.

  4. Give time for students to start their homework in class. Work hard to finish your lesson a little early so that students can start their homework in class. Not only does this shorten the amount they have left to do, but it also allows you to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and gauge how quickly students are working.

  5. Turn some homework into classwork. Just because you used to assign something as homework doesn’t mean it has to be homework. Can you find time for the students to do it in class? You might be surprised how much the quality of work increases when you do this.

Want more help managing homework? Check out the post “How to Manage Homework Without Going Crazy”

I’d love to hear your thoughts about homework. Do you assign a lot or try to limit it? How do you determine what to assign? Share your thoughts with a comment below.

Photo by GoodNCrazy

September 29, 2014 in Academics (Teaching) , Teaching

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