There is an optimal rate for accomplishing most
tasks. A competent student is often a well-paced student, performing
at a rate appropriate to the task and available time. Taking the
right amount of time for a writing task is largely dependent upon
both a student's temporal-sequential skills and his/her attentional
abilities. Temporal-sequential skills help us interpret, retain,
or create information that is in serial order. These skills are
related to a student's ability to appreciate time in general and
estimate time appropriately.
Tempo control (a facet of attention) helps students
regulate the allocation of time to writing tasks, and to predict
the time required for an upcoming task. Tempo control also instills
a sense of "step-wisdom", the knowledge that it is more
effective to undertake activities in a series of steps, rather
than all at once. Tempo control allows a student to match his/her
pacing to the demands of a given task, e.g., to take the right
amount of time to finish an essay test, or to do a homework assignment
thoroughly yet efficiently.
Here are some strategies to help students become
better able to take the appropriate amount of time on writing
assignments and activities.
- Help students understand the relationship
between how long they should maintain focus, and how much time
will be required to do a task well. For example, teach students
to analyze a task or assignment in advance, and to estimate
the time needed to complete it. You may need to demonstrate
how to do this type of time estimation, and how to budget time
- Promote the evenly balanced use of effort
and pacing, e.g., not working too franticly or too slowly during
a test or assignment.
- Have students develop time lines for historical
and narrative events to improve their appreciation of temporal
sequence, or the passing of events through time.
- Encourage students to keep a diary, which
may make the sequence of events in time or the passage of time
- To improve time management skills, have students
make up a study schedule for a day, the week, etc.
- Require students to plan for a designated
number of minutes, work for a designated number of minutes,
review for a designated number of minutes, etc.
- Encourage students to make outlines for written
reports to help with the pacing and organization of their ideas.
- Do not allow students to perseverate on tasks
for longer than is necessary. For example, suggest spending
only two minutes on each problem, brainstorming as a short separate
exercise before writing, etc.
- Stress the real-life benefits of both estimating
before doing, and reasoning after doing (e.g., thinking about
the answers to math problems, the results of a science experiment,
etc.). Discourage the preoccupation students may have with just
getting the answer.
- Eliminate student incentives for frenzied
pacing, or rushing through work. Remove positive reinforcement
for being the first to finish a task.
- Allow students to use calculators, word processors,
dictating machines, etc. to increase their rate of production
- Teach students how to use textbooks efficiently,
e.g., how to use the table of contents and the index, to skim
the chapter for key words, dates and names, to look at pictures
for clues to meaning, to read the questions at the end of a
chapter before reading the chapter, etc.
- Encourage students to use staging, i.e., to
break a complex task into smaller, shorter, or less complex
"mini-tasks." Provide students with a template such
as a blank timeline, flow chart, or task web to use to analyze
a writing assignment and break it into stages. Show how pre-planning
long or complex tasks into stages can be beneficial. For example,
when students need to write a book report, they need to allow
time for deciding on what book they will read, reading the book,
taking notes, organizing their ideas, writing the report, and
revising and editing the final draft.
- Encourage students to take intermittent breaks
when working on long assignments, undertaking many tasks, or
working for an extended period of time, e.g., a sustained period
of listening, taking notes, or writing. Make work more manageable
by having students write a certain number of words or sentences
at a time.
- Reinforce the staging process by rewarding
students with quick breaks when mini-tasks are completed.