Monday, September 8, 2014

Writing and procrastination: What type of procrastinator are you?

Based on the research of DePaul's Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Lifehacker created a flowchart to help you decide what type of procrastinator you are. The site also provides a nice synopsis of Ferrari's theories about why procrastinators procrastinate (and my personal favorite, why "procrastinators hate procrastinators").

When I talk with students about writer's block, I introduce some sort of cool digital tool for invention, draw a cluster or brain map, create an outline and start to flesh out the essay as an example, or direct students to "talk to someone, be observant, read something, and some ideas will develop." When it comes to procrastination, I tend to suggest using a daily calendar, setting small goals, or finding a buddy to be accountable to.

Yet, the following week, I still wind up with several late papers and incomplete work, and then a sour feeling comes over me. I ask them, "What happened?" One third of the guilty will say "writer's block", one third will say "I'm a procrastinator", and the other third will tell me about their sick kid, late nights at work, flooded basement, or one of the ten plagues that came across their path in the last seven days. Are "writer's block", "procrastination", and "my kid was really sick" all variations on the same behavioral pattern?

I'd say there are similar, and possibly more forms of procrastination that are task-specific. When it comes to my experience with academic writing and writers, there are likely several variations of procrastination. A bit of research confirmed my suspicion. According to Onwuegbuzie and Collins, "students apprehension about writing appears to be related to academic procrastination stemming from fear of failure and task aversion. This result is consistent with work of Boice who found that procrastination was one of seven cognitive components of writing block. A reciprocal relationship is likely between these constructs" (562). Boice's seven cognitive components include: (1) work apprehension, (2) procrastination, (3) dysphoria, (4) impatience, (5) perfectionism, (6) evaluation anxiety, and (7) rules. Yep, I'm pretty sure I have experience most, if not all of these, myself during my academic career, so I imagine that some these are just now rearing their ugly heads for adult students returning to college.

More recent research has shown that procrastination and writer's block go beyond the cognitive to the social and affective (Wellington 147). Attitudes, beliefs, history, and culture all contribute to those seven cognitive components. Wellington suggests that solutions to procrastination lie in (1) the support and communities that universities provide for writers, (2) opportunities for giving and receiving feedback, (3) educators helping students think about writing as a form of developing and growing their knowledge and understanding (writing as learning), and (4) confronting and talking about the affective elements of writing such as joy, relief, fear, pain, or stress.

I've realized over the years that the process of learning and writing is more than a classroom, a brain, a computer, and textbooks, and that teachers should be required to take at least a few courses in psychology. Procrastination is a real thing that affects real people in achieving their life goals. While I'm not trained in helping people get through these heavy issues, I can at least talk about them in my classroom and offer some food for thought.

For more guidance on avoiding procrastination, check out Ferrari's new book, Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done. Just don't wait too long.

Works Cited
Boice, Robert. "Cognitive components of blocking." Written Communication 2.1 (1985): 91-104.
Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J., and Kathleen MT Collins. "Writing apprehension and academic procrastination among graduate students." Perceptual and motor skills 92.2 (2001): 560-562.
Wellington, Jerry. "More than a matter of cognition: An exploration of affective writing problems of post-graduate students and their possible solutions." Teaching in Higher Education 15.2 (2010): 135-150.

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