Earlier in the year, I was talking with a student who clearly wanted to do better academically but realized his laziness and penchant for procrastination was preventing him from achieving change. (This is a very self-aware kid.) But making big, vague imperatives to himself — like “I will get an A in math”, or “I will always do my homework” — weren’t working. At that point, I told him he should try to work on the small stuff. Don’t make big pronouncements, but take small baby steps that would help him in the long run. I said: “Hey, don’t say I will do something for the quarter… say that for the next week, I will sit at the desk in my room and work on homework for three hours, only taking at most one 10 minute break. I can try this out this week”
This idea of short-term baby steps had never occurred to him. When we finished that conversation, he was so excited about this idea that he left saying he wanted to his mom got in on it and for her to hold him accountable for monitoring his short-term goals.
Recently I was talking with this student, one quarter after our previous conversation. I didn’t bring up all the things we talked about. I let him guide the conversation. And what came out was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I interrupted him twice to say that I wish I had a tape recorder so I could get everything he was saying down.
He said that the biggest change that has led to his success last quarter was doing homework. Not just hastily writing down answers to get it done, but spending time to really understand it. He said that was the biggest factor that caused his turnaround. He also said that by doing the homework, studying for exams wasn’t hard anymore. Because it wasn’t all cramming, but simply review. He already knew the material from the homework. (Gasp!) He wasn’t learning it again for the first time. Studying for tests became so much easier this quarter. Lastly, he said that even if a class is totally dull beyond belief, boring as all heck, he has started paying attention instead of zoning out. Why? Because for some reason, he noticed that when he did pay attention, he knew the material and could much more easily recall the information.
Can you imagine how I felt after this conversation? I wanted to grab every word he said, bottle them up, and make every one of my students this year take a long, refreshing swig. It was so powerful coming out of his mouth. I say these things to students, and it’s all hogwash. A friend says this unsolicited to a friend, it’s inspirational.
All I can say is that I hope he is proud enough of the strides he’s made academically to share his wisdom with others. They’ll believe him.