It’s the morning of his weekly spelling test, and Jackson hasn’t studied a single word. In the days leading up to the test, he put off studying to play outside and to watch his favorite TV show.
He scrambles during breakfast and on the way to school to review the words for the test. He only ate half of his waffle and the busyness of a school-day morning thwarted his ability to study quietly.
Jackson is nervous as his teacher hands out the test. He tries to remember what he studied hours earlier, but his mind goes blank. Instead, he becomes frustrated, slams his pencil down and gives up before he’s even tried.
Not only did Jackson fail his spelling test. But the experience also made him lose confidence in his spelling abilities moving forward.
As an educator, how many times have you witnessed this scenario? Too many to count, I’m sure.
Negative Effects of Procrastination on Students
We all procrastinate at some point in our lives. But habitually avoiding tasks until the “last minute” is a behavior that can have negative consequences for people of all ages.
Not surprising, procrastination has a negative impact on students’ school work, grades and even their overall health, according to Oxford Learning.
And like Jackson from our story earlier, students who procrastinate tend to experience higher levels of frustration, guilt, stress and anxiety. And in some cases, it can lead to serious issues like low self-esteem and depression.
Procrastination has an even bigger impact on students as they move on to high school, college and even into adulthood. As the stakes become higher, the consequences of procrastination become more serious.
For those reasons, the goal is to help students overcome procrastination early on and become better, self-motivated learners. The key is to identify the underlying reasons students procrastinate and find ways to curb the behavior.
What’s Behind Students’ Procrastination?
It’s not unusual for children to put off homework, chores or other responsibilities for a more favorable activity. But sometimes there are other factors at play.
According to Oxford Learning, students typically procrastinate for the following reasons:
- Lack of motivation
- Low self-confidence
- Fear of failure
- Lack of understanding
- Trouble concentrating
- Low energy levels
- Poor organization skills
Based on those observations, it’s safe to say that procrastination has very little to do with laziness or a lack of caring. Rather, it’s a combination of motivation, confidence and comprehension issues.
5 Ways to Help Students Overcome Procrastination
After school programs have a unique opportunity to address these challenges and help students “bid adieu” to their inner procrastinator. Below we’ve shared five tips, strategies and activities to develop more productive and proactive students:
Make learning more meaningful.
It’s not easy doing things that seem irrelevant or meaningless. And for procrastinators, it’s virtually impossible.
That’s why it’s important to provide activities that connect learning to students’ interests or real-life scenarios. One way to do this is through project-based learning, or PBL. It’s a student-centered learning approach that challenges students to investigate and solve real-world problems.
To make it more meaningful, choose a problem that students face within their own communities. This allows them to better understand the impact the project has on their daily lives.
Equally important, PBL teaches students more than key academic skills. It also fosters important life skills, like responsibility and accountability, which can help improve their productivity.
Create a program culture that embraces failure.
Many procrastinators also struggle with perfectionism. They’re afraid to fail. They get down on themselves when they make mistakes. They avoid taking risks to protect themselves from being teased or considered "not smart”.
In either case, perfectionism leads to low self-confidence, anxiety and lack of trust in oneself. It hinders students’ ability to learn and negatively affects their willingness to tackle new tasks.
Program leaders can help reverse perfectionism and prevent the fear of failure in students. The key is to build a program culture that acknowledges effort, emphasizes respect and thrives on community.
Provide concrete tasks and responsibilities.
This tip from Education.com is based on a recent procrastination study by Dr. Sean McCrea, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
According to his findings, “people act in a timely way when given concrete tasks, and they dawdle when they view the tasks in abstract terms.”
What does this mean for your students? It simply means that they are more likely to complete tasks on time when they’re specific and tangible.
For example, instead of simply saying “read a book,” you might say “read the first two chapters of your assigned book.”
The way in which you frame a task can determine students’ ability to clearly understand and complete it.
Find creative ways to boost students’ motivation to learn.
Famed mountaineer and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary once said: “Motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success.”
The same is true when it comes to getting students excited about learning.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that’s driven by internal rewards, like personal enjoyment and genuine interest. Extrinsic motivation is driven by rewards from an external source, such as a good grade or award.
The former is more effective at getting students to learn. According to Education.com, intrinsically motivated learners are more likely to:
- Tackle assigned tasks willingly.
- Be eager to learn classroom material.
- Process information in effective ways (e.g., by engaging in meaningful learning).
- Achieve at high levels.
Once students are intrinsically motivated to learn, they’re less likely to see homework and assignments as boring, meaningless tasks. Rather, they’ll begin to enjoy the growth and discovery that takes place as they learn.
Need inspiration? TeachThought shared 21 simple ideas to increase student motivation in the learning environment.
Practice goal setting.
Setting goals is a great way to get procrastinators to kick it into action. And goals can be as simple as completing a homework assignment or mastering a particular subject.
Effective goal setting helps students break their tasks into smaller steps, or micro-goals, which makes it easier for them to get started.
In order for this to be effective, students must focus on setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals. It’s a great way for students to see tasks as doable and it allows them to track their progress as they work toward their objectives.
Procrastination can be a barrier to success in school and life. Help your students overcome procrastination early on with the tips and strategies shared above. In the end, you will have more productive, self-motivated students who are ready and willing to tackle any tasks that come their way.