One of the main reasons students struggle in school is that they do not do their work.
So what do you do with students who are unmotivated, won’t turn in their homework, won’t come in for extra support, and won’t access any of the supports you’ve put into place for them?
This was my struggle about mid-way through the first year I attempted to institute the student SUCCESS plan in my own classroom. The supports were working just great and students were making wonderful progress . . .
. . . until I got to the research paper assignment.
Then they hit the brakes and checked out.
They stopped doing homework. They stopped participating in class. They stopped coming to the extra help sessions.
They basically shut down.
When I asked them what was going on, they said, “I’ve never written a 10-page paper before. It’s too much. You might as well fail me now.”
What was I going to do?
The research paper was required. But the moment they got to the assignment and saw that they had to write 10 pages, well the assignment was just too big. No matter what supports I put into place, the students felt they wouldn’t be enough to help them with an assignment this big, and they just gave up.
I was desperate. I had taught the research paper before and I knew what a behemoth it was to students. It took an entire marking period to complete and I’d usually lose several students along the way even though I’d offered all kinds of extra help in the past.
I wasn’t sure what to do but I had had some success with the support plan thus far so I looked at what I had done and tried to see if I could apply it to the research paper.
First, I asked myself what was working. So far, the things that worked the most on the Student SUCCESS plan for my students were the Red Flag System, Chunking, Anticipation, and Automation.
- The Red Flag system let me and students know early on when they were headed in the wrong direction so we could intervene early.
- Chunking allowed me to break big assignments into smaller chunks so that they were more manageable and so that students could get quick wins.
- Anticipation allowed me to prevent a lot of struggles my students typically faced.
- Automation allowed me to make the supports automatic so that no student fell through the cracks and so that I didn’t wear myself out in the process.
So I looked to see if I could apply these same strategies to the research paper.
I developed a Red Flag System
In years past the research paper was worth a massive amount of points. That year, I broke the research paper down into steps in the process. Each step was worth a certain amount of points. The total was the same but instead of earning a HUGE amount of points at the end of the process, students could earn points throughout the process. Then I set up checkpoints throughout the process. If students hadn’t earned a certain amount of points at each checkpoint, which was a red flag that students were falling behind.
I Chunked the research paper.
Students complained that they had never written a 10-paged paper before. So I asked them, “Have you ever written a 2-page paper?” They looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “Of course we have. We just turned in one last week,’ they replied. “Do you think writing a 2-page paper is pretty easy by now?” I asked. They shrugged. “I guess so. We’ve been doing it all year.” “So, we are not going to write a 10-page research paper. We are going to write five 2-paged papers,” I announced.
And that is just what we did. After I redesigned the process so that students submitted 5 2-paged papers. After they submitted their last paper, I handed back all 5 papers and we spent one class period writing transition paragraphs from one paper to the next. At the end of the period I announced, “Class take a look at what you’ve done. You’ve now written a 10-page research paper.” I still get goose bumps when I recall the look of amazement and pride that slowly spread across their faces.
Chunking removed a big barrier that kept them from starting and made a mammoth task seem doable.
I used Anticipation
I had taught the research paper long enough to know when students tended to struggle in the process. So, rather than wait for them to struggle, I anticipated trouble spots and built supports into the process that were designed to keep students from struggling in the first place. For instance, my students typically struggled with taking notes from sources. So, rather than wait for them to struggle and get frustrated, I anticipated their struggle and created a note-taking process that made it easier for students to find the right information quickly and take notes almost effortlessly. As a result, we were able to circumvent a major barrier in the process.
I made it Automatic
Automation meant that I simply built all of these supports into the process. That way, I didn’t have to provide supports ad hoc. For instance, the moment students missed a milestone; they immediately were assigned to a make up session either during class or at lunch. The make up session was designed to help them quickly recover their points. It kept most students on track.
At the end of the process, I was nervous about my results. The entire research process FELT better this time around with much less stress, complaining, and dragging students through to the end but would it result in more research papers?
The answer was a resounding YES! In the past, I had about a 70% research paper completion rate and many of those papers earned D’s. This time around I had a 99% completion rate (only one student didn’t turn in a paper) and no one earned anything lower than a D.
What’s more, some of my most unmotivated students stuck with me through the entire process, turned their work in on time (for the most part 😉 and even admitted that “this wasn’t so bad,” by the end.
When you set up a Student SUCCESS Plan , you can get even your most un-motivated students to start turning in work and seeing success.
With the right plan you can help every student find success, even if they are unmotivated, don’t turn in their homework, or are far, far behind.
To learn how to set up your own plan, click here.