Friday, November 16, 2012

A Good Student?

When I got home from work today, one of my sons shared with me a school assignment he was given. The assignment asked him to describe what makes a good student.  I have copied his response below.  His response raises some interesting questions for me, his father, who is also an educator...
You: A Good Student
So you want to be a good student?  Excellent!  Some of the qualities of a good student are being a good listener, doing what you are supposed to do and being nice.  Now let's get into the details.
First off, a good student listens.  That means not interrupting when somebody is talking, trying to hear what somebody is saying and sometimes, if you're being asked to do something for example, doing it.
Secondly, doing what you're supposed to do is very important.  That doesn't mean you mindlessly do everything you're told whether or not it's fair.  It just means you're nicely doing the things that are reasonable.
Lastly, you should always, always be nice.  Not just to the teacher, but to everybody whether or not they're your friends or just people you barely know.  You should always be nice to everybody.
Now, all these things lead up to respect.  That's the big idea.  Be respectful.  That is how to be a good student.  So go out there and be a good student!
I am very proud of what he wrote about listening and being respectful.  These are some very important skills for being a good human being.  I also appreciate that he wrote about "not mindlessly do(ing) everything you are told", since that requires some analysis of just actions.  But I am concerned that in his very short school career, he has developed a limited view of what is key to success at school.  While these traits are very much within his personality type, the idea that being cooperative, staying quiet and being respectful will ensure success in school is concerning.  When I first read what he wrote, I asked, "What about asking questions, learning, thinking and exploring?".  He responded, "Yeah.  I guess those would be good, too". 
I can appreciate that this is one young person's thin interpretation of what leads to success, and I recognize that as a rule-conscious pre-teenager, he will not have to alter his personality to be successful at school .  But if this definition is widely held among many young students, I worry that those whose personalities are less quiet and compliant will be at odds with themselves.  We need to ask, "Are we (parents and teachers) not being explicit enough in celebrating skills like thinking, questioning and creating?  Are we putting too much focus on compliant behaviour and not enough on creative thought?"  And most importantly, "How widespread is this definition among students, and how do parents and teachers help to shift it so students see that being a good student is much more than being a cooperative person?" 
Below is the one of the first images I found when I searched Google Images for "A Good Student".  Lists like this make it difficult to encourage students to take risks and look for creative solutions to problems and may make the more rambunctious students feel they have to change who they are.  I would be curious to hear suggestions for how to expand the definition held by my son and others....


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