PURPOSE: To empower students to envision new commitments and carry them out, as well as to provide students with an opportunity to translate general information presented in class into specific commitments that contribute to making them a success.

SUPPLIES AND SETUP: A few blank sheets of paper or blank pages at the end of a journal

DIRECTIONS:
1. [Have students listen to a class lecture on strategies that will assist them in their academic career. When appropriate, engage them in an activity to reinforce the concept.] 2. Conclude by saying, “We have just explored ideas that can assist you in college. In your journal, during the next five minutes, record your thoughts as to which ideas would be the most and least beneficial to you and why.”
3. Continue, “Flip to the last page of your journal, entitled ‘Commitment Page’ and skim through the commitments you have recorded thus far. Place a check next to those that have already been completed.” [1 minute] 4. “Write a new commitment statement. Record today’s date in the left margin, and follow this with your commitment statement: ‘I commit myself to doing/trying ________________ within a 7-day period.’” [allow about 3 minutes] 5. Lead a discussion of what the students have learned about commitments. [5-10 minutes]

OUTCOMES AND EXPERIENCES: My students enjoy taking the time to think of commitments and write them down. It gives them a small sense of empowerment over their destiny as they write and as they check off completed items. It’s also a therapeutic stress-buster to write items and know they will be accomplished.

Students see the life lessons in writing and keeping commitments, as their commitments not only concerned school but life in general – from small commitments to working diligently each day to being on the Dean’s List, to proper eating, exercising, and controlling temper.

I decided to put myself through the same exercise as the student, and wrote commitments too. Students were curious as to what I committed to, so at times I shared my commitments with them, and this opened the door for them to share their commitments. Some of my commitments related to earmarking specific amounts of time to read their papers, record the grades, or just prepare for class. They were at times surprised that I didn’t wing each class and that it took so much time to review their papers. In short, they got a better understanding of a teachers’ work outside the classroom. I, on the other hand, learned, that as busy as I am, I can squeak out a few extra minutes of time to complete small chores that I’ve excused myself from doing.

Overall the writing of commitments has been a great experience for each student individually, for me as the instructor, and for the synergy of our class as a whole.

To evaluate the students’ impressions of this activity, I created a questionnaire that asked them to answer the following questions anonymously:
(l) How are you doing on your commitments?
(2) Has taking the time to write commitments in class been a great idea, an OK idea, or a bad idea?
(3) Is it a good idea to review written commitments?
(4) Should I have students write commitments next semester?

(l) Regarding meeting their commitments: Eight out of 20 students did not meet all the commitments they set out for themselves. But this was OK, as I received (unedited) comments like, *I feel I completed 3/4 of my goal. It’s better then nothing. But I can and want to do better. *I only 1/2 did my 1st commitment. It was to exercise and eat healthy. So far, I’ve been eating healthy, but not exercising.

On the other hand, 12 students reported they are keeping their commitments and some indicated a feeling of pride when doing so, as can be seen from these unedited comments:
*Yes, it has been useful. When I do the things I have to do like study, go to work, class and the gym, I feel good about my self and when I don’t I feel like a looser.
*The commitments idea was great! I have been achieving them all. I have done most of the commitments I wrote.
*I have been drinking water and doing some exercises to lose weight.
*It is helpful to write my commitments. I always think about things I would like to commit to, but never make time. Now that I write them down, I feel obligated to complete it. It makes me feel good each time I stick to a commitment
*At the time, it is sometimes difficult for me to think of a commitment. However, it feels really good when I follow through.
*I committed to practice my sign language an additional 15 minutes a day. I got a 93 on my last quiz!
*I now read every night!

(2) Has taking the time to write commitments in class been a great idea (16), an OK idea (4), or a bad idea (0)?

Their general comments on this question were all positive. I received specific feedback that again reinforced the value of even being aware of commitments. Unedited comments follow:
*Writing commitments in class really makes me think of the things that I want to strive for. All kids should write commitments.
*My confidence has went up, and I feel I have more achievements.
*Making commitments is like making short-term goals- It’s good to have short-term goals to follow.
*It reminds me to do things that I often forget to do.
*It helps to keep me focused and enables me to be successful in school.
*It helps me to be aware of the things I want. It does help me to honor them more

(3) All the comments regarding the value of reviewing commitments were positive. I received the following unedited feedback:
*Reviewing them helps remind me of what I plan on doing.
*I get a hi with each check on my commitment page
*Taking time for commitments to keep us on tract is a great idea and working well with me.

(4) All students answered “Yes” to the question, “Should I have students write commitments next semester?”

In short, even though eight out of twenty students had not kept all their commitments, they found the experience of writing commitments to be a positive one and eagerly looked forward to writing more commitments and being faithful to them.

I’ve also noticed the focus of my lectures changes, as I keep in mind that students will write commitments afterwards. For example, when discussing time management, I make an extra effort to supplement the
theoretical lectures with very practical strategies.

Applications in other courses: With today’s emphasis of writing across the curriculum, the writing of commitments is certainly an easy way to incorporate writing in any course. For example, a math professor may say, “We are having a text in one week. Think about your schedule and write a dated commitment to yourself as to when you will study.” The commitment can be revisited on the day of the test.

A foreign language teacher may avail herself of the opportunity to write, “I commit myself to” on the board in a foreign language, and assist the students in completing the rest of the sentence. Students could commit themselves to mastering a certain number of words by writing flashcards, or to completing certain pages/assignments by a
certain day and time. These would all serve as a review of basics learned in any foreign language: day, month, time, numbers.

The beauty is that commitments can pertain to a variety of activities: getting a specific grade; planning a study schedule; trying an approach suggested by an instructor; staying healthy; etc.

LESSONS LEARNED: The writing of commitments allows students to translate general information presented in class into specific commitments that can make them successful. They have also learned to apply commitments to all parts of their lives with examples such as, “I will drink more water, exercise, read a book to my child….” It teaches them a strategy they can use for the rest of their life. Taking class time to review commitments and check each one completed provides the continual reinforcement needed for students who have not yet created an internal system of monitoring their time, goals, plans, and commitments.

As for me, when I go beyond merely thinking about commitments to writing down commitments as I ask my students do, I realize I really do have the time to complete a few activities that I’ve put off.

–Louise N. Walkup, Humanities and Student Success, Three Rivers Community College, CT

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