In order to complete writing assignments for
school, students must develop their cognitive working capacity.
That is, students must learn to initiate and maintain the mental
effort needed to complete tasks and activities. The ability to
manage one's effort is closely linked to academic productivity
A strong capacity for work enables students to
delay gratification and to persevere through tasks that take considerable
energy, such as when writing an essay or report. A strong work
capacity also helps students sustain their effort when information
is worthy of attention, even though not immediately exciting,
such as when writing an outline for a chapter they will be tested
Here are some strategies to help students sustain
their effort throughout a writing assignment or study session.
- Encourage students to think about training
to study and do schoolwork in the same way they train for a
sport. Such training involves getting into shape physically
and mentally, eating regular, balanced meals, and keeping a
reasonable sleep schedule. The more physically active a student
is, the more heightened his/her powers of concentration will
- In addition to physical training, teach students
to do mental training, for example, clearly separating study
and free time, and being aware of thoughts and feelings about
studying or assignment success. Help students realize that thoughts
of failing, boredom, frustration, and other negative themes
are likely to have a negative impact on performance. Encourage
students to think positively and hopefully about their abilities
- Talk with students about personal study habits,
exploring how some students study well in the morning, some
in the evening, etc. Emphasize that the key is setting a study
schedule that fits your personal style.
- Encourage students to take physical breaks,
and to use stretching and walking around as ways to revitalize
themselves. Explain that such activities cause blood to flow
more evenly throughout the body, and more oxygen to be carried
to the brain, thus making us feel more alert.
- Have students self-monitor their own progress
as they move toward completion of tasks by using checklists,
keeping logs, or marking progress on a graph.
- Help students establish manageable study sessions
that they are likely to have success adhering to. An example
of such a schedule might be: 1) set the timer for 15 minutes,
2) write until the timer goes off, 3) get up and move around
for a couple minutes, 4) write for another 15 minutes.
- Encourage students to schedule short writing
sessions, and to avoid marathon study sessions, which tend to
be overwhelming and increase student procrastination.
- Encourage students to do their most difficult
work during hours when they feel best. Most of us have periods
of high energy, as well as periods of medium and low energy.
Help students identify their peak times and plan their schedules
accordingly, doing difficult work when energy is high, and easier
work when it is low. Working this way may make them feel more
- Encourage students to work for a set period
of time, so that an end point is in sight. Students often become
more restless when they have no time goals.
- Help students learn to temporarily "park"
ideas that are bothersome or distracting, so they can focus
on the activity or assignment at hand. For example, suggest
that students set aside a specific time each day to deal with
such problems or concerns. Then, as they work, have students
keep a pad of paper nearby, for jotting down distracting thoughts
and ideas. This helps students know that their thoughts won't
be forgotten, and allows them to return their focus to the immediate
activity. By encouraging this type of time management, you acknowledge
that student concerns are important and warrant attention, but
not so important that they come before the work at hand.
- It may help students to begin a task on the
day that it is assigned, and then to develop a plan for finishing
the task, dividing it into "chunks" of work with established
deadlines and rewards. Getting an immediate start may give students
the momentum to chip away at a task in order to get it done.
- Promote "step-wisdom" in students,
by teaching them how to use a sequence of logical steps to complete
complex tasks, rather than trying to do tasks all at once. If
necessary, help students identify the first step, and the steps
that follow. For example, provide a checklist or goal sheet
to help students break down a writing project into manageable
steps, e.g. (1) select topic, brainstorm, collect data, (2)
plan writing (identify audience, organize ideas, develop concept
map), (3) generate first draft, (4) elaborate ideas, (5) evaluate
and revise, (6) edit, (7) rewrite, (8) do final proof reading.
- If appropriate, offer reinforcements when
students complete tasks. Let students help you decide which
types of reinforcement they'd like and will work best for them.
- To help organize ideas for written output,
students might benefit from using a tape recorder to "store"
their thoughts by verbally discussing them on tape before they
begin to write. They can then transcribe their dictation.