18 July 2006

Seven Deadly Sins of Students - Sloth

Sloth: Students often postpone required readings and assigned preparations, making it hard for them to understand their classes the next day. Gradually, lectures and discussions that were once interesting start to seem boring and irrelevant, and the temptation to skip classes becomes greater and greater, especially when the classes are in the morning. Sometimes students arrive late with -- in my opinion -- insufficient shame, closing the door behind them with a bang. Slothful students regard themselves as full of potential, and so they make a bargain: "I will be lazy now, but I will work hard later." Like St. Augustine, students say to themselves, "Let me be chaste, but not yet." More on lust later.¹

Professor's Take:
We've all done this. Something was more important. A crisis came up. It was just too boring to get through. I will say that the one good thing that came out of my time in purgatory law school was learning how to read things that were dry and boring, and take notes on them.

Yes, your dear professor was one of those students. I would frequently attend class in undergrad having either just skimmed the material, if I'd read it at all. And yet, I did quite well in my history courses. But the reason that not reading the material is such a problem is that the lecture is designed to supplement the text, and vice versa. One does not equate to the other.

As an instructor, my frustration with this comes when that student that hasn't even dented the spine of their text comes to me and complains about their grade. Midterm, final, or even just a quiz or an assignment. You know the saying "if you didn't vote, you shouldn't bitch"? It's much the same way with doing the assigned reading.

Many students fail to realize how doing the reading helps them. Mainly because it is not an immediate gratification issue, and we all love our immediate gratification. If you have read the text and taken notes (more on this later), then you are better prepared to participate in the discussion. Or, at the very least, ask questions at the appropriate time during the lecture. And if you've taken notes while reading and while in lecture, when you go to office hours (which you should!), you can bring in your notebook with the unclear concepts marked and your professor should be able to explain the answer in a number of ways until there is one that makes sense to you. (If they can't, then you have a shit prof and I'm very sorry.)

Once you have a failure to understand the information, or be able to follow what's going on during lecture, it's very easy to 'zone out.' It's even easier to decide that you're better off not going. The original author is correct. It's a slippery slope and if you attend a university that does not have attendance requirements, or at least there's not one for the class, then it is very easy to set yourself up for failure.

And then come in and blame the instructor/professor for your poor performance. Don't do this. It makes you look like an asshole and it doesn't endear you to your professor. Academics are notoriously codependentt. If you come to us and ask for help, we're going to bend over backwards to help you. Except when you expect us to do the work. I remember writing a report in 2nd grade and asking my mom to 'help' me with it. Of course, my version of 'help' was for her to read the books, take notes, and create the outline. I have never forgotten what she said to me. "Honey, I've done second grade. I don't have to do it again."

Laziness is no excuse. Man up, take responsibility for your part, and do what you gotta do.

The door thing.

My biggest pet peeve ever. I loathed people like this as a student, and as a professor, it irritates me more. A few reasons. It interrupts my train of thought. It also makes me have to work harder. Students miss whatever I've been saying because of the interruption. And then they come up to me after class or during office hours and I have to rewind to where the hiccup was. As well as interpret the student's notes.

I think when it happens next², because it will, I'm going to pull a parental. I'm going to make them get up and go out and back in and close the door properly. And I'll do that to every student that makes that critical error. Yep. It's an interruption, but maybe something that's missing from the university experience is a little bit of social stigma for bad behaviour.

In short, the original author has hit Sloth right between the eyes. Students are notoriously lazy, especially new college students. It's amazing what huge amounts of freedom do for one's sleep habits, and one's awareness of time. I think a lot of this problem, on the student's end, could be solved with learning basic time management. Think Scotty on the original Star Trek. When he would have a problem and it needed to be solved, he would always quote a time much longer than what he thought he would need. Papers and reading are like that. Figure out how long you think it will take, then add 50-150% to it. Set aside the time, even if it's not all at once, and just do it. And have a hard copy schedule in which you write down due-dates. Remember to look at it. Stick to your timelines and schedules and you will probably find that you have more time than you anticipated, because you won't be spending so much time trying to work yourself up to doing what needs to be done. The semester is cumulative and unless you are expert at cramming or turning out 5 beautiful pages of prose in two hours, 'working harder later' just doesn't fly.

¹ Benton, Thomas H. 2006. The Seven Deadly Sins of Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 12, 2006. http://chronicle.com/ (accessed July 18, 2006).
² One of the joys of being a web professor is that there are no doors to slam. I do have personal experience with this, though, for a previous teaching gig. Major pet peeve.

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