Parents, this article outlines a process that your student can go through to start catching up on overdue assignments in classes they’ve fallen behind in, as well as a worksheet they can use here.
When you’ve fallen behind in your homework, it can snowball. Pretty soon, you haven’t looked at your powerschool account in weeks. You know things are bad, but you don’t want to know how bad.
Throughout the day, you try not to think too much about your classes. When you do, the fragments of overdue assignments, tests approaching, and warnings from your teachers make you feel anxious. You push those thoughts out of your mind, and you get through your days with a mild sense of unease.
But whether the trigger is an email from a teacher, a progress report, or your own impending sense of doom, today is the day to get a handle on your classes and start catching up on those overdue assignments.
But how do you begin? The thought of digging yourself out of what feels like a bottomless chasm can feel overwhelming.
How not to begin
Unless there is an emergency, don’t start by just working on any old overdue assignment. The reason? Doing a single assignment, while it does make progress, is a way to procrastinate on the far more important task: getting a handle on the scope of the problem. If you have to build a house, the first step is not to go out and buy a doorbell. You’ll get an assignment done, feel a mild sense of accomplishment, and be left with the same sense of dread that may prevent you from making further progress.
Before you can take effective action, you need to gather information, and you need to triage.
Phase 1: Information gathering (Peering into the abyss)
The hardest step first. Not that it won’t take a lot longer to get all of your homework assignments done, but untangling that black, scary mess is the primary thing you’ve been avoiding for weeks. The good news is that once you’ve untangled it, it is almost always WAY less scary!
It’s time to be brave, and dive in.
Step 1: Mind dump
It’s tough to focus and work effectively if your mind is running non-stop, filled with cluttered with fragments of information you are trying to keep hold of. The way to quiet the mind is to do a mind dump. Spend 5 minutes writing, non-stop, anything and everything running through your mind. It’s OK if what you are writing gets repetitive. Pay particular attention to any thoughts around concerns about classes, homework assignments, projects, etc. This isn’t about remembering every single thing that you need to get done. It’s about telling your mind, “Hey, you don’t need to keep thinking this thought over and over again. I’ve got it written down…I won’t lose track of it!”
Once you have written for five minutes straight (don’t stop!), look over what you’ve written. Is there anything in what you’ve written that is something you need to get done or need to remember for one of your classes? If so, circle or highlight it. We’ll come back to it later.
You will feel a LOT better after this exercise. You’ll be able to let go of the repetitive thoughts running through your mind that distract you and prevent you from maintaining focus.
Step 2: Powerschool/google classroom
Next step is to create a list of the assignments that you are missing in each class. Create a google sheet: this is where you are going to create your master list of assignments to make up. HERE is an example of a google sheet you could use. Feel free to make a copy of it yourself for your personal use.
Log into your powerschool and, class by class, find out which assignments you haven’t turned in. If powerschool doesn’t provide enough information about the assignment (for example, it lists “Assignment 2.1) but doesn’t make clear what the assignment is, find that info on your google classroom/assignment sheet.
This master list should be the only place you need to look to get information about assignments. Include page numbers, problem numbers, links, etc. You should be able to look at this document and have all the information you need to get to work. This is key: when you sit down to work, it should be as easy as possible to get started.
For each assignment, estimate how long it will take to complete. Be generous to yourself and err on the side of longer.
Are there any assignments for which you need more information or materials? That is, if you wanted to begin working on it right now, would you have everything, and know everything, you need to get started? Add an asterisk next to any assignment for which you need more information or materials.
Are there assignments you believe you’ve turned in late, but do not have confirmation from the teacher (either on powerschool or by email from the teacher)? Email the teacher to confirm.
Step 3: Additional information/materials
OK, so you now have a list of all outstanding assignments. For each assignment with an asterisk, write down what information/materials you need to get started on the assignment.
- You need to know if an assignment will still be accepted late. Email your teacher now to ask.
- You have a book to read, but the book is in your locker. Create a reminder on your phone to go off when you get to school to remind you to put the book in your backpack.
- You have a project to complete, and you need poster board to complete it. Make a reminder on your phone for next time you leave the house to pick up poster board at the drug store.
As you get this information, add it to your google sheet and delete the asterisk.
“Ask teacher about it tomorrow” is not an action taken now. “Email my teacher now” and “Create a reminder for 10:40am, the minute I walk in the classroom, to ask the the teacher” are actions taken now.
Each item that requires more information/materials should have a specific action taken now, and that action (and today’s date) should be documented on the google sheet.
Finally, look back at your mind dump. Is there anything in your mind dump that needs to be added to this sheet? If so, add it.
Phase 2: Triage (stop the bleeding)
Ok, so we now have our master list of outstanding assignments, with all the information we need in order to complete them. What’s next?
Our next step is to determine in what order the assignments need to be done. There are a variety of factors to consider when determining the order.
- Urgency: Are there any assignments coming up against a deadline for late assignments? If so, these assignments should be ranked near the top.
- Resistance: Are there any assignments that you are feeling particular resistance to starting? If so, those should be near the top.
- Order dependent: Are there some assignments that need to be done before other assignments? For example, assignments in a chemistry chapter that build on each other?
- Momentum/quick wins: Is there a class that you are just about caught up on? Near the top. Is there a series of short, related assignments that you can knock out quickly, one after the other? Do them in order to build momentum.
Order your assignments to complete, starting with 1 (first). Don’t agonize over this step. The key is to create an order so that every time it’s time to start an assignment, you don’t have analysis paralysis over what to do next.
If you used the google sheet I linked to above, you can click on a cell in Column A, click “Data” -> “Sort sheet by column A, A->Z” to sort your assignments in the order you intend to complete them. You can also sort by class or by how long the assignment will take by sorting by the appropriate column.
Phase 3: Schedule your time to catch up
Now that you have all of your assignments in one place, in order, and you know how much time it will take to complete everything, you need to schedule the time it is going to take you to finish everything. So get out your planner (and if you don’t have one, get one). Day by day, schedule the necessary blocks of time that it will take you to finish everything.
Scheduling the time doesn’t mean “three hours of catch-up on Saturday”. It means “Saturday 11am-2pm: Catch up on homework”
Make sure that you are allowing time to stay caught up with your current work.
Don’t overestimate what you are reasonably capable of. Obviously, you are going to need to push yourself, but it isn’t reasonable to plan to stay up until midnight every weekday, right? Make use of your weekends especially. If you haven’t been keeping up with your work so far: yes, it is going to take sacrificing some of your free time.
Once you have all the necessary time scheduled out to catch up completely, begin!
Phase 4: Getting the work done
You know what to do, and when to do it. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you get through your overdue assignments.
Focus on one assignment at a time:
This means much more than just complete one assignment before you start another one. It also means THINK about just one assignment. The reason you did all the above information gathering and planning work above is so that, when you sit down to work, you can focus all of your attention on JUST the task at hand. Not grapple with the totality of everything you are responsible for and try to figure out what to do next.
Better to complete an assignment than half-finish one
If your scheduled work time has 30 minutes left, and your next assignment is going to take you 45 minutes, see if you have a 20 minute assignment coming up in your queue. Better for your organization (and your spirits!) to get an assignment completed.
Turn in your assignments as you complete them.
For assignments that are turned in electronically, turn them in immediately upon completion.
For assignments that are turned in in person, turn them in the next day. Don’t let complete assignments linger on your computer, in your backpack, or on your desk. They’ll get lost or be forgotten, or at minimum will be just annoying thought you still have in the back of your mind until you actually turn it. Close the loop!
Label your assignments well
Make your teacher’s job easier by clearly and neatly labelling all physical paper homework assignments. For digital assignments, choose descriptive filenames like “Assignment 2-1”, not “Untitled Document” or “homework”.
This is a good habit to have regardless of whether you are turning in an assignment late or on time. Take pictures of every page, every side of every homework assignment you turn in. That way, down the road, if your teacher loses track of an assignment you handed it, you can show them the time-stamped picture of the completed assignment.
Email your teachers as you hand in your assignments.
Teachers have a LOT of assignments coming in, every day. It’s not surprising that, if you are turning in several late assignments, they might be mis-placed. When you hand in your assignments, you should email your teacher to request confirmation that they received the assignment. Be gracious and thankful in your email, and let them know you don’t expect it to be graded right away. You just want confirmation that it was received for your records (or to show your parents).
The first step to tackle any big undertaking is understanding how big it is. It can also be the scariest part, especially if you’ve been dutifully trying to avoid knowing. But the low-level anxiety you are feeling over a class you are falling behind on isn’t going to go away until you take action. If you go through the process outlined in this article, I guarantee that you are going to feel a lot less stress. Having a plan does that!
If you are looking for some support in helping your son/daughter get a handle on and get caught up in outstanding assignments, give us a call at 858.551.2650 or email email@example.com