College Prep 101: Teaching Responsible Study Habits
- Thursday, December 03, 2009
A bit of advice that may make you unpopular with your teen: Unplug the Internet cable during her computer time and turn off her cell phone, if she has one. Yes, unplug. This makes it impossible to go online or get interrupted by a text message while working on an essay or report. If she needs to do research online, separate the research process from the writing process. Let her work online . . . and then simply unplug the cable when her research is complete.
What's the big deal, you ask? When she tries to study while chatting with friends via instant message and email, she greatly reduces her ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, the quality of her work suffers. In addition, she'll require more time to finish the project. For one, the interruptions themselves take up time. But more importantly, these breaks—no matter how short—force her to keep refocusing each time she returns to the task.
I regularly experience this myself: multiple files open on the PC, emails chiming on the laptop, and a barrage of projects stacked on my desk. When I flit back and forth among them like a restless butterfly, I often close out my day feeling like I accomplished absolutely nothing. I end up with myriad loose ends dangling everywhere and just as much on my to-do list as when I started.
However, when I discipline myself to work on one project at a time, visit my Inbox a few times a day instead of several times an hour, and steer clear of both Facebook and the phone during those designated working hours, I'm so much more productive as I pick off a bunch of little tasks (or take a nice chunk out of a bigger project). The sense of accomplishment is huge for me—and your teen can experience this too.
Making electronic access difficult (or impossible) forces your student to pour all her concentration and effort into her writing. This ability to separate work from play is of the utmost importance at college, where she won't have your help to make such wise choices. In your "home training center," once she figures out how much easier it is to write a paper in an uninterrupted block of time, she may never go back to multitasking again.
Create and Adhere to Deadlines
Can you imagine a student telling his professor: "Can I have another week? My sister was hogging the computer" or "Sorry I missed the test yesterday—I was too tired—but I can make it up this afternoon." We can laugh at how ridiculous this sounds, but chances are, you yourself have caved to these very requests.
As homeschoolers, it's easy for us to let deadlines slide; the sense of urgency just doesn't exist for us like it does in the public or private school setting. We cling to a false sense of security that says: "We have time . . . What's the rush . . . He's only 14 . . . That's why we're homeschooling," and so on. As a result, many homeschoolers either don't give due dates at all, don't adhere to them if they do, or don't impose consequences for late assignments. In college, such leniency will never fly.
Establish a system for posting and keeping track of deadlines. For best results, keep a large monthly calendar in a prominent spot (in your school area, on the fridge). Even if you use a lesson plan book and give your teen daily assignments, it's helpful to be able to step back and see, at a glance, clearly marked project deadlines and test dates.
A calendar like this gives your teen a quick, daily review of the panorama of impending deadlines. This prevents the dreaded "due date creep," where it suddenly dawns on the procrastinator that a test, essay, and science project are all due in the next day or two. It also encourages him to use time wisely when working on big projects, including spreading out the work over several days or weeks and starting early enough to finish without having to pull an all-nighter. A college course syllabus is sure to include long-term assignments, so developing the habit of scheduling and self-pacing will prepare him well for handling multiple simultaneous deadlines, which are typical of college work.
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