Community Blog

Process not Product

I am a little busy at the moment. I have 6 kids, I’m a stay at home mom and I work online for the BYUI Pathway program. I am also working on my master’s degree online through Boise State.  In the midst of all of this I was directed by a friend to take a free online class called Learning How to Learn through Coursera. The science of learning is a hobby of mine, so I was intrigued. I somehow squeezed in the time to take the whole class. I learned a lot about how learning takes place and how to optimize my learning.

One of the best ideas I gleaned from the course was to “focus on the process not the product.” This means that when you take a class you should focus on putting in the time to work on the class, rather than focusing on the assignments that need to be done. For example, if you are in a 3-credit hour class you could focus on putting in 9 hours of study time each week. During those 9 hours you will work on your reading, completing your assignments, participating in your class discussion board, and study for tests and quizzes. Instead of focusing on getting your assignments done you focus on the time you need to work on your class. It is easier for your brain to focus on putting in a certain number of hours, than to focus on getting a huge assignment done or a large number of assignments done. Focusing on the process and not the product helps reduce your stress and allows your brain to relax and get to work.

In the past when I have students in my class who are behind on their assignments I have tried to help them get those assignments done by checking on their progress. This semester I decided to try and help one of my struggling students focus on the process and not the product. It worked so well, that I wanted to share my idea. This is how I did it.

My student, we’ll call her Sarah, is very busy homeschooling her children and was having a hard time getting her assignments done. About half way through the semester I emailed Sarah. This was our conversation:

Sister Goodwill: "Why did you start Pathway originally?"

Sarah: "I think I started Pathway because I never completed my degree at BYU and have always regretted that.  Sometimes I see other women with their education and expertise and I wish that I could be good at something too.  I felt like my lack of education was limiting me; like I could be so much more.  

"Now that I'm in the Pathway Program I've had to learn to manage my time better.  It's helped me to be a better homeschool teacher.  Plus, I love the challenge of learning and expanding. 

"I still want to try to finish Pathway this semester."

SG: "I can see that the reason you started Pathway is something you still really want. That's wonderful! I am willing to work with you and help you through this. You just need to be willing to dedicate a certain amount of time each day to work on Pathway. How many hours each day can you give me?" 

Sarah: "Thank you for helping me.  I can give you 2 1/2 hours a day."

SG: "That's perfect! Okay, please answer these questions for me:

  • "What time will you do your 2 1/2 hours? (You can do them on different times each day, I just need to tell me when you will do them, ex: Monday 7:00 AM-9:30 AM, Tuesday, 7:00 AM-8:00 AM and 7:00 PM-8:30 PM, etc.)
  • "Starting tomorrow I want you to send me an email each day and tell me 1.) How many hours you worked and 2.) What you did during those hours. Got it?

"I look forward to getting your email tomorrow!"

Sarah: "I will study for GS class on Monday-Saturday from 4:30am-7:00am. 

"Today I studied for 4 hours on 'What Is Truth' talk by Elder Uchtdorf, and learning about research tools."

SG: "Great Sarah! I love studying in the morning, I get the best things done then. Make sure you also spend about 10 minutes each day on the discussion board. You're doing great! I look forward to your email today."

Sarah reported to me for about 3 days via email and then I made a Google Sheet for her to report on. 

Sarah updates the Google Sheet each day and I make comments on her progress. Since we started focusing on the process (the hours put in) rather than on the product (getting her assignments done) Sarah has been getting all of her assignments done on time. She’s even answering questions on the discussion board and doing more than the minimum requirement.

As an instructor I often think about how I can help my struggling students. They are each different with their own problems and personalities. I know that Heavenly Father loves them and is aware of their personal struggles. He can help us, as instructors, know what will help them, how we can show them we love them, and care what they are doing in our classes. My hope is that through this post you will have another idea of how you can help one of the struggling students in your class.

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  • Cynthia, I really like this idea for helping struggling students. This method has a great combination of personal accountability with the Google Sheet and motivational praise with your comments. I think as an instructor I feel more in control if I concentrate on working required hours and calmly getting items accomplished than stressing on what needs to be graded.

    • Thanks for the feedback Vickie!

  • Impressive Cynthia!  You invite me to step up my student support game.  I'll not likely catch up to your awesomeness, but I can improve a little from where I am. I also think you're right that this approach won't work for everyone.  I'm not sure I would have responded to it well...unless I really wanted to improve myself vs. looking to blame my conditions or situation.

    • Thanks for the comment. :)

  • Hi Cynthia,

    I love this method. I can see that you really worked with her.

    Did she fill out the time worked? Did you go into her progress and check on her hours, spot check? 

    I'm just wondering if this system would always work with students or if they might lie to themselves and fill it in anyway even if they didn't do the work and complain that it didn't work.

    I'm glad it worked for this student.

    I actually had a student this semester I think this would have worked with, but alas, I didn't know about this until now and my student will probably fail my course. I feel bad. Especially  now that I see there could have been more I could have done for her.

    I'll bookmark this and use this idea when another student like her comes along.


    • Yes, the student went onto the Google Doc each day and filled in the time she worked. You can see that I also left a place for her to make comments, but she never did.

      I think this system will work well for some people, but not well for others. Someone who would not be honest on this sheet would obviously not benefit from this approach. 

  • This is a really great practical way to help the strugglers.  My students with low scores usually have low scores because they do not put in the time needed.  I would like to help students next semester with some upfront clarity in the first email about how much time they need to plan and schedule for the course.

  • Cynthia-  Thanks for sharing this.  What a great idea!  I have a student this last week who e-mailed me asking for help to get a better grade in the course.  When I responded that I would be willing to work with her to study for the final and what time could she meet, she said she works all week and won't have time to study.  I love that this focuses on finding and using the time.  I'm a bit perplexed by students who want to get the good results without putting in the time to do the learning.

  • Love it! Thanks Cynthia! :)

  • I really like this concept and there are 2 things I have been thinking about:

    1) Time blocking seems to go contrary to multitasking.  Now, there are pros and cons to "multitasking", but one of the major cons is that it is easy to get distracted.  I'm reading my scriptures and then all of a sudden a "text" comes in and I find myself 20 minutes later checking a Facebook post (that was referred to in the text).  How effective was my scripture reading?  I can set time aside, but how can I start to limit the distractions around me to properly allow my brain to focus on the work and not feel stressed about other responsibilities?

    2) I noticed that the student would sometimes work 4 or 5 hours.  At one point the student said they worked 3.5 hours and you marked down "Wow!" and then later when they only worked 2 hours you said "so close".  However, the student reached the goal of the overall hours for the week. You may say, "Well, it was a daily goal, or there is nothing wrong with doing extra work."  However, I think that this could be an area of concern.  If I spend too much time in my online course than what am I sacrificing to spend that time?  Won't that cause stress for the other responsibilities and roles that I hold?  If we want to work on the process of learning rather than the product than we also need to be careful to not "overwork" ourselves in the process of one area of our lives at the sacrifice of something else (which would cause different stresses).  One thing I need to work on is learning when to put down my work and move onto the next task rather than "try to finish it all within one time block".  What about blocking out time for exercise, healthy eating, spiritual fortification, etc.

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