Friday, August 27, 2010


A 1997 report from the American Society on Higher Education (ASHE) reccommended that professors design their courses so that the average student would need to spend about two hours outside of class for every hour in class in order to succeed. This recommendation has become a de facto standard, and if you quiz a professor on the subject, you will most likely find they have heard about this recommendation, even if they don't know its source. Given that research from the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) among others finds that students spend, on average, a little less than one hour studying outside of class for every hour spent in class, it is no wonder that most of us who teach are dissatisfied with our students' performance.

When I was a student in the Navy's Nuclear Power school, I was shocked by the difficulty of the program. It wasn't that the subject matter was impossible--it was challenging, but no more challenging than typical college subject matter. However, we worked much harder. We spent around thirty hours a week in the classroom, and had to spend about 25 hours a week in supervised study sessions. If you did poorly on an exam (all exams were essay exams, or computational problems--no multiple choice) you could expect to be assigned additional supervised study time. Some of the poorer students ended up spending 70-80 hours a week in supervised study. It was very challenging, but only about 1% of students failed the course for academic reasons. That's a success rate universities are never likely to achieve.

What does this have to do with writing? If you really want to be a professional writer, you should begin by developing rigorous work habits. If you spend an hour or two every day on your writing, you should plan to spend at least double that time researching. If your work is more creative, follow Virginia Woolf's schedule--four hours in the morning in front of the typewriter (computer, for you) and four hours in the afternoon journaling, editing, collecting proofs, and corresponding with publishers, critics, or other writers.

More than anything, becoming a professional means developing the work habits of a professional--whether you are intent on becoming a professional teacher, a professional writer, or a professional nuclear engineer.


Post a Comment

<< Home