Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Procrastination and Lack of Feedback

I'm really happy to have found "Individiual Differences in Academic Procrastination Tendency and Writing Success" by Barbara A. Fritzche, Beth Rapp Young, and Kara C. Hickson. These researchers are interested in composition. As in, they actually cite compositionists in addition to psychologists. They're not just looking at what psychologists have found about procrastination, they're looking at what compositionists have said about the writing process.

In particular, Frizche, Young, and Hickson are studying the relationship between feedback and procrastination. They hypothesized that high procrastinators would be less likely than low procrastinators "to seek feedback on their writing prior to submitting it for a grade" (1550). On the other hand, they figured that those high procrastinators would see a bigger improvement from the feedback they did get.

They found that "high procrastinators wrote their papers early only when they received feedback" (1554). I'm looking at the numbers, but I can't tell much from them. I'm guessing this means that many high procrastinators received feedback without starting early, but few or none started early without receiving feedback?

Fritzche, Young, and Hickson conclude that "students may be able to mitigate some of the negative outcomes associated with their procrastination tendency by seeking feedback on their writing prior to turning it in for a grade" (1554). I'm a bit troubled by this phrasing. Feedback mitigates the problems with procrastination? What if the lack of feedback was the real problem, not the procrastination? It seems like the researchers are implying that problems caused by procrastination and problems caused by lack of feedback are independent, but that students can make up for a lack in one area by improving in another. But at this point I see no reason to assume the two are independent, especially considering that the researchers have already demonstrated a relationship between procrastination and not seeking feedback.

In the end, the researchers suggest something of a bridge between composition pedagogy and counseling psychology. Instead of relying solely or mostly on counseling to work on procrastination, teachers can help in how they structure assignments. They suggest that "requiring or making available writing center consultations, teacher student conferences, or peer workshops can provide students with an additional deadline: if they habitually procrastinate to their deadline, the extra incentive to complete at least some work earlier" (1555). They also suggest breaking up larger assignments into chunks that are turned in before the final draft.

Okay, so we already do all this, right? But composition research suggests feedback for a different reason, doesn't it? Feedback is good on its own, it's not just a way of forcing students to work on their papers earlier. But I'd say Fritzche, Young, and Hickson are actually on to the way these techniques are really used by Practioners in composition. I think we do often use peer review to force students to produce a draft, rather than making them have a draft so they can participate in the independently important peer review. Am I wrong?

We really need to straighten out what we know about procrastination, what we think about procrastination, and what we do about procrastination. Otherwise we could be going at this all wrong. Like, if procrastination isn't the real problem, then artificially removing procrastination by compelling students to turn in multiple drafts isn't going to fix the problem. Whereas if procrastination is correlated with something (like lack of feedback) that is directly harming the student's writing, getting at that issue should be more helpful.

Work Cited

Fritzche, Barbara A., Beth Rapp Young, Kara C. Hickson. "Individual Differences in Academic Procrastination Tendency and Writing Success." Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003): 1549-1557.