Hello and happy Wednesday everyone! I hope this post finds you well. Today I wanted to touch on the subject of overthinking and how it affects students.
Overwhelmed, Not Lazy
In this modern age of videogames, internet, and smart phones, it is often said that “kids today have it so much easier,” and in a way that is true. But what people, especially those who grew up without modern conveniences, fail to understand is that what has replaced the wall of not having easy access to information is now a deep black pit where the bottom cannot be seen. Instead of having to exert exponential effort to physically sort through the card catalog, you now have to exert the same amount of mental effort trying to narrow down what you want to search specifically and how to find it in the sea of information.
Student’s have gone from starving for access to information to drowning in it and most of what comes at them is akin to empty calories. Information that is not helpful, not on topic, or just plain wrong. So instead of getting in there and getting their project or paper done, they sit staring at an empty screen with that taunting line of a cursor blinking over and over again as if to laugh at them in Morse code.
Essentially, students are not lazy they are simply overwhelmed.
Building a Life Raft in a Sea of Misinformation
If we are to continue the metaphor of being drowned in a sea of information – both important and not – then how is the modern student to build a life raft? A moment of reprieve? A way to sort through the assaulting titles? For writing, as that is my area of expertise, the answer could not be more simple.
Outlines are the answer! In my years of writing tutoring not one single student has come to me already utilizing outlines the way they need to. Either they think it is extra work that they do not need to do, they simply don’t know how, or they use it in the wrong way.
The way I direct students to outline is as follows:
Introduction: (One sentence – the most general sentence they can think of about their subject material)
Thesis: (their thesis in one sentence)
BP1 – (One sentence – the first point they want to touch on)
BP2 – (One sentence – the second point they want to touch on)
Conclusion: (One sentence answering the question: so what? Why do I care about this information?)
From this outline structure, they are able to see each point they want to make, the basis of their “funnel” for their introduction (to be explained in a later article), and reminding themselves of the much more superior (to the sum it all up) conclusion, the so what conclusion.
This is a quick, easy way to get a student to begin brainstorming and to have them see very clearly and simply what they need to research and how they want to organize their essay.
BUT WHAT IF THEY HAVE ALREADY WRITTEN THEIR ROUGH DRAFT?
This would be the time to implement what is called a Reverse Outline. A Reverse Outline is when you take what you have already written, and create an outline off of it. The student would sum up each paragraph into one sentence and use the same structure as above. This way, they can easily see what they already have in a quick, easy to access format.
Make It Float
But even the best life raft, built in the water or before the excursion, is worth nothing if it can’t float. So, how do we make it float? What are the holes in our life raft that we need to plug?
ONE WORD: CONFIDENCE
No matter how prepared a student is, they will achieve nothing if they are paralyzed in fear (btw, this is another way that students appear lazy on the outside). If they do not trust themselves to write the paper they have designed the outline for, then the raft is useless. This is where a student should be taught to rely on their own skills rather than the validation of a teacher, tutor, parent, or other authority figure.
In our modern school system, students tend to get blurred out by the sheer number of peers around them. When you add in the factors of large class sizes, underpaid and under supported teachers, and a strict curriculum with heavy testing and very little time in a school year after holidays, breaks, and test prep…you have a student who has been inadvertently taught to follow a teacher’s word to the letter and who has not had the chance to rely on themselves due to the pressure to get through the information quickly. They are told the answer before they are allowed to discover it for themselves. They are told there is only one way to answer. They have no room to build their own and best version of how they process information.
So, break down the assignment in bite-sized chunks with them. Help them see that they simply need to search for supporting evidence for the first, then the second, then the third, etc. paragraphs until they have completed their research and can move on. They do not need to go from the prompt to a perfectly polished essay.
A Kind Word Goes A Long Way
At the end of the day, remembering that students have a life outside of school, bodies that are changing rapidly, hormones that are swimming through their brains, family problems, social problems, and the pressure to be perfect the first time around with no chance to slip up can help you to take them slowly one step at a time through their assignment as their supporter and confidant.
Remember…overthinking is the Achilles’ heel of the modern student.
Until next time!!
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