Students in my Science, Technology, and Society class are just beginning to work on their research papers. Mark (name is changed, of course) was particularly stressed about choosing his topic. He said things like, “I am not interested in anything that I can actually find sources of information on.” Or, “I can’t write 8 pages on this topic.” I tried to calm him down a little and encouraged him to begin thinking that he could do this paper. He said, “My glass is never half-full. I’m a half-empty kind of person.”
Students who struggle in school often feel defeated before even beginning. Mark’s attitude came across as anger. He seemed angry with me for giving him this project, and he also seemed angry with himself. This is probably the result of past failures on similar tasks.
Here is how I plan to help Mark:
- Break this project into smaller chunks that he can do. “First, let’s pick a broad area of interest. You like computers, don’t you? Let’s look for articles that talk about some controversy related to computers.”
- Help him find sources of information that he can read and highlight on his own.
- Meet with him regularly to keep him on task. This will be especially important as he begins writing, because I believe his real fear is whether or not he can write a paper that long.
- Encourage him on a regular basis. “Mark, look how much you have already done! What do you need to do next? Are you feeling a little better about this paper? You can do this, Mark. It’s hard work, but you are up to it.”
If your child is behaving similarly, it might be worth using this approach with her at home. A call to her teacher can help you clarify what the expectations are for the project. It is important to remove the emotional block that is keeping her from even starting by asking, for example, "Okay, think—what comes first?"
If he is successful with one project, he may feel more capable when starting the next one. If not, provide the same support until he begins to take charge of his own learning.