UCI Procrastination Challenges and Solutions

Reasons & Solutions For Procrastination

Student Fear Everyone Will Discover They Are Not As Smart As Everyone Thinks They Are

Solution: Help them recognize that smartness does not mean everything will come easily. Clarify that one can be very talented in math, but not in language arts. Students benefit from an introduction into how the brain processes and accesses knowledge, so they feel more comfortable not having everything be easy. They need a safety net of reasons they might not know something. (examples provided below)


Students Fear Asking Questions for Clarification

Solution: Dispel the myth around questions and clarify that teachers are not mind readers, so we don't know what they know already or what they don't know. Explain that we may think our directions are clear, but until someone asks a questions we aren't aware we aren't clear. It is through their questions that we realize what they need in order to be successful. We can assume a lot, but we don't want to guess. Their questions take the guess work out of the equation for the teacher.

Solution: Demystify the attitudes around questioning. For further information on how to get them over the fear of asking questions, refer to my ebook. Overcoming the Fear of Asking Questions available in my on-line store.

Solution: Offer an Escape Net for not knowing. There are several reasons students will not know how to do something. Some of these reasons are:

  1. Their dendrites around the information have pruned.
  2. Their previous teacher did not teach the concept.
  3. They were in the bathroom, out ill, or on vacation the day the concept was taught.
  4. Their amygdala was set off by their stress response of the feeling of not knowing.

They Feel They Can't Make Mistakes

Solution: Help them see the value in making mistakes and dispel the myth that smart people don't make them. Help them develop the understanding that mistakes don't mean you are dumb. They are a sign one needs to try something different until success is achieved.

Share the Edison Ethic: He didn't feel he failed 999,999 times when searching for how to make a light bulb work. He said he just found all the ways it didn't work. He never gave up until he found the one that did work.

Their Stress Response Blocked Memory and is a Huge Time Waster

Solution: Offering neuroscience about the brain’s response to stress and offer strategies for settling the amygdala.

The Teacher's Due Dates Don't Impact Students

Solution: Use backwards planning with students so they can take into consideration their unique needs and make individual accommodations with the teacher's due dates in mind.

Students Have Multiple Assignments From Different Teachers

Solution: Scheduling all assignments in one agenda can help students see everything they have to juggle. If they have backwards planned the first day assignments are given, they can alert teachers to what their colleagues are also assigning. Most teachers don't have time to consult each other, so putting the student in the driver's seat allows them to take ownership of this responsibility. My third graders learn to do this as soon as we increase the number of assignments they handle each night.

They can also advocate for themselves by asking one teacher to move the date of a test one day earlier or one day later. Having three tests or multiple projects assigned on the same day in middle school is unreasonable and setting students up for failure.

Some Students Work Best Under Pressure

Solution: When students do planning, they can guarantee they can meet a deadline by creating artificial deadlines that allow for any interferences that might get in their way of being on time.

Some Students Are in a Power Struggle With Adults

Solution: When students  prescribe a plan of how they will execute the assignment, they are more inclined to be successful because they don't want their plan to fail. When they control their day, week, and month, they are more likely to meet deadlines. Each situation is unique. I have addressed this issue in my book Homework Solutions: A Parent's Guide and Homework Solutions: A Teacher's Guide, both available in my online store.

One Example:

Will was a student who was turning in his assignments. After three months of weekly interventions which included conferences with his mom, his teacher asked me for some help. The following is a dialogue pattern that teachers will find helpful in getting to the core of the student's challenge and how to facilitate a student prescribing a change in behavior that will stick:

"Will, I understand you haven't been successful turning in your homework. What is getting in your way?"

"I don't know." (This is a common response. For Will, it usually got him out of the conference, because his teacher and parent would tell him, and then he go out and play).

"I do believe you know. We can sit here through recess until you think of what is preventing you from getting your work done and turned in on time. Your friends are playing basketball, and you will be here with me until you figure it out. We can resume this session during lunch and even after school if need be. So what do you need to change in order to get your work completed."

“I start playing basketball at home, and before I know, it is it dark. Then I have to come in, have dinner, and then there isn't any time to do homework."

"I'm glad you know the cause. That is 100% of the solution. Now what are you going to do to change that?"

"I don't know." (Again, he was awaiting the solution that he had no intention of doing, but it would get me off his back).

"Well, you are going to come up with at least one thing you can do that will help you get your work completed and turned in on time. Or, you can stay here with me until you figure that out."

Within seconds he responded, ”I think I just need a sign that says, 'Do It Now!' and I'll put it above my desk to remind me."

"Well, that is not as creative as the ideas your mom or teacher have come up with, so we will have to see if it works. If you are not successful, and this idea doesn't work, I will be meeting with you again each recess until you find one that works. It could use up all your recesses."

"It will work!"

"We'll see."     

You'll notice I didn't get too excited about his idea. If I had, then I would have bought-in to his idea. Stubborn children want to give it to adults, so the way to do that is to show us we are wrong.

It was not surprising to me that he never forgot his homework the rest of the year, or the next year. I would touch base with him while he still attended our school and in eighth grade, he said, "The sign still works."  At his high school graduation, he told me he was taking it to Cornell in the fall.

It didn't matter what his idea was. He could have said he was going to tie his shoes together until he was done. The reason it worked was he couldn't let his idea fail.

We often make the mistake of telling instead of asking. Power seekers make great company owners. We just need to create situations where they have choices that are within our parameters.                           

They Don't Read the Directions Correctly

Solution: Reading the questions "as if" they are going to start the assignment as soon as it is assigned and asking questions about what is unclear is a powerful solution. Instead of telling them what to do, I ask them to read the directions and ask me what is unclear. I convince them I am not a mindreader and I do not want to teach them what they know already, I want to teach them what they don’t know. If I teach them what they know it will be boring. Each year I get different questions on the same assignment. The students come in with different prior knowledge and their skills weaknesses vary year to year. My directions are general in nature unless I have a specific skill I expect to be achieved through the assignment.


Solution: Beginning instruction by having the students read the directions and determine what they do not know, then having them share what is unclear is a powerful teaching strategy that engages students. Once they ask the question, they want the answer, so they listen carefully. This results in students remembering the concept when they get home. My instruction includes strategies for figuring out how to solve that challenge should they forget how to do it when they get home.

Students Lack Problem Solving and Forecasting Strategies

Solution: By discussing challenges and their solutions with each pre-questioning session and the following day after the assignment has been attempted, students are able to share what they experienced and how they solved them. As a class, they are learning how to predict possible challenges and have a toolkit of solutions. Using a self-evaluation after each homework assignment, test, presentation, and project, students will learn how to be more efficient and identify what they need to achieve their best.

Dendrites prune, which will make the long term memory a bit harder to access at first. They need strategies for accessing information.  (This will be a topic of an upcoming blog post).


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