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Tripping Over Pebbles

By: Jon Thomas, EdD, and Pamela Barton

Which college course is most frequently failed?

It may surprise you to learn that the one hour “college orientation” or “introduction to college” course is among the finalists. In fact, some students fail it multiple times and are required to petition to retake it.

At most colleges, intro to college is known as an “easy A” class that basically requires you to show up, do a bit of self and world reflective work, a few writing exercises like journal entries, and you’re done. That said, what could be so difficult?

Well, that’s the whole point. It isn’t difficult. In fact, its easy. Too easy it turns out.

Students I speak with who failed in this way, reported telling themselves that the work was negligible and could be done quickly and later. They told themselves that attendance was not that important and that they could skip a few classes. A few classes turned out to be most of the semester – quickly and later became the agonizing night before, or never.

Students who have ADHD frequently struggle with difficult coursework. But what often catches us off guard are the “pebbles” – those classes we take for granted and underestimate. This leads to the phenomenon of “Tripping over Pebbles”. We consider a class or assignment to be so small and insignificant that it doesn’t warrant our best effort. Thus, it receives our least effort, or none at all.

Tripping over pebbles isn’t confined to so-called easy classes like college orientation. Remember taking a course and thinking “Oh, I remember all of this from high school”. Or, “this looks easy, so I’ll take it easy”.

We make pebbles (and often fail) when we tell ourselves stories that minimize the importance or scope of the work a course requires:

“I took precalculus for granted, I had audited it before and thought I knew what was going on.”

“I understood the material and didn’t need to study. Doing the homework was enough.”

“Because I’m familiar with the material, I don’t have to study.”

“It’s an easy “A” course, everyone knows that.”

“I never worked hard on it because I thought it wasn’t hard”

We can experience the tripping over pebbles phenomenon in a variety of classes -not just the difficult ones – depending upon how we approach them. And because it derives from impulsivity and excess optimism (flawed critical thinking skills), it happens commonly among students who have ADHD.

Students who overcame tripping over pebbles reported telling themselves new stories and committing to new behaviors:

“I slowed down.”

“I made it a point to look for my silly mistakes.”

“I took no course for granted.”

And my favorite:

“I built pebbles into stones”.

When the semester/school year is still young – there is time for course correction. So, take heed early…

…and keep an eye out for those pebbles.

We are a uniquely integrated program of College Readiness & Success Training, Academic Coaching, Mental Health and Career Counseling for high school and college Students with ADHD.