How Would You Help This Student?

By Mona Pelkey, United States Military Academy, West Point

Last month's case study:

Tom is a third-year undergraduate student with average grades, but he wants to improve his GPA so he can get into graduate school eventually. He states that his worst problem is procrastination; even though he is aware of term paper, project, and exam dates for many weeks in advance, he does not start anything until a day or two before the due date. As a result, his grades suffer, although he states that he always passes and that he is not worried about failing out of college. Motivated by an academic crisis fueled by a personal one (missing a week of classes while in the hospital), this student came to the learning center to learn how to manage his time better and stop putting academic tasks off until the last minute.

After several counseling sessions, he has made and re-made detailed study plans and to-do lists. He confesses that after planning his study strategy, he returns to his dorm room and surfs the Internet until bedtime. He even confesses that his habit of procrastination is ruining his social life.

Despite his dissatisfaction with his self-described "laziness" and his mediocre grades, Tom is seemingly unable to stop procrastinating. He needs assistance. How would you help this student?

Two of our readers sent in their excellent suggestions for helping Tom:

Linda Standerford, Northwest Missouri State University:

I would have Tom write down his goals, which would include grad school. Then I would have him write down a list of things that will help him attain that goal which would of course include a better GPA. Also, have him make a list of specific things that are keeping him from his goals like his undisciplined computer usage.

Next, I would help Tom identify the time management system that would work best for him: paper-based (day-, week-, or month-at-a-glance) or PDA. The advantages of PDAs are:

The ability to remind you with bells and whistles
The ease with which you can set re-occurrences
The ability to record, retrieve and carry all your to do lists in one place

I would also suggest he post visual reminders of his goal on his wall (picture of the grad school, the career he wants, etc.). Also add a visual reminder on his screensaver/ or wallpaper and set a 10 minute timer so that he will not lose track of time and surf the 'net endlessly.

Jennifer Cole, Russell Sage College:

I would suggest to Tom that he study in a location other than his residence in order to avoid the distraction of the internet and get back into interacting with other people (potentially revitalizing his social life). I would also advise that he check in with me daily. In my experience, when students have an extra person looking over their shoulders and caring about what they are doing (or not doing), it helps motivate them. Although Tom is in his third year, he might need a reminder of structure that he might have had in high school or in his first year of college to get back into (or start) developing that structure for himself.

Now, this month's case study:

Jenny is a third-year student who is on academic probation. She visited your office a few times in the past because she needed help staying focused on her work. She had reported that she liked to socialize, and you gave her tips and techniques for staying focused. Last week, however, she came to your office in tears because she failed another course and feared expulsion from college. She reluctantly admitted that the source of her distraction from studies was that her mother was making frequent phone calls from home, reporting marital discord and threatening to leave her father. She also reported that her parents told her that if she flunks out, not to come home. Jenny feels obligated to listen to her mother and try to help her parents stay together. She is terrified of failing because she wants to please her parents and she is afraid she will not have a home to return to. How can you help this student?

Help your colleagues to help their students! Send your suggestions to Mona Pelkey at no later than February 3, 2006. Those chosen for publication will include the name of the submitter and his/her institution. If you have a case study that you would like Learning Center Exchange to publish, please send it to Mona for possible inclusion in a future issue.

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