A Question of Procrastination or Ineptitude (an Analysis of the Case Study "It's Due Tomorrow: Tutoring under a Deadline")
Rafoth, Ben, Journal of College Reading and Learning
It is tempting to read this case as a parable of procrastination:
Once there was a college student who put off writing his essay until he had too little time left. He went to the writing center for help, but there were so many problems in his paper that there was not enough time to correct them all. "You need to include books in your bibliography," said his tutor. "And make an outline, revise your thesis, and strengthen your argument," he added. So the student gritted his teeth and tried to do what he could, but the hour was late. The tutor left, and the lights went dark in the writing center. When the deadline came the next morning, the student had no paper to hand in, and he received an F.
Moral: Never wait until the last minute to go to the writing center, or there will be failing and gnashing of teeth.
Procrastination is the bane of all students. One of my colleagues suggested it belongs among the letter grades we give to students: A, B, C, D, F, and P--for Put Off Until Too Late.
Procrastinating is one of those quintessential irrational acts that inevitably leads to greater pain and aggravation than prompt completion, yet we do it anyway. In fact, procrastination is defined as an act of needlessly putting off a task to the point where it causes discomfort (Carton, 1999). Absent the discomfort, it is merely a case of delay or deferment. True procrastination has got to involve squirming. Perhaps that is what led Meyer and Smith (1987), the authors of The Practical Tutor, to imagine, but not recommend, this scenario:
Tutor: How come you waited so long to come here?
Writer: Well, I had a lot of other work to do.
Tutor: Well, it's too bad you didn't come sooner. I'd like to help you, but what did you think we could do in an hour? I mean, we can't get the paper done.
Writer: Uh, no. But I brought the essays with me.
Tutor: Well, that's not going to do me much good; I don't see how I can help you with this one. There just isn't time. If you get another assignment, come see me at least a week in advance. (p. 19)
This scenario inflicts the kind of discomfort some believe procrastinators deserve--shame, guilt, and ultimately, denial of service. Those who fail to get their work done in a timely manner cannot be rewarded for it, for heaven's sake. We could become a nation of laggards. Besides, the thinking goes, I am always on time, so why shouldn't you be, too? Making procrastinators pay, especially when they have been given deadlines, is a time-honored tradition spelled out in most course syllabi. Some instructors deduct points every day an assignment is late and others refuse to accept late papers altogether. Web sites and internet jokes have been devoted to the excuses students give for why their assignments are late: The standard "My dog ate it" has given way to "My hard drive ate it." My favorite has always been this one: "I was on my way to class to hand in my paper when I got in a car accident with a dead cow lying on the road. It had been killed, and I could not avoid rekilling it." The discomfort associated with procrastination is rarely counterbalanced by any reward for completing a task on time. And no one gives extra credit for receiving assignments before the deadline. Being late is what matters.
If it seems that college students procrastinate more than anyone, it may be because most studies of procrastination have focused on this age group. They conclude that 46% to 95% of college students procrastinate on their assignments on a regular basis (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). No one, it seems, has asked how many times corporate executives, information technologists, or teachers for that matter, procrastinate. Yet a quick search of the Yahoo! search engine turns up a plethora of web sites dedicated to goldbricking for the grown-up, professional elite. …