a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
I was thinking about a question recently—what does a good student look like? As I reflected, I realized that I should ask the question differently. Perhaps I should ask—what does a good student do?
Here are some of my answers to the second question.
As you can see, many of my thoughts focus on behavior. I have more responses, but I wonder what other responses you might have. Think of a few of your own responses before you continue to read.
As I continue to think about the question, I think of students I have had over the last five years and what made them “good”? Certainly, these students always came to class. If they were absent, they contacted me to tell me, and they took the responsibility for the homework and finished it before the next class. These students’ questions in and out of class were about learning rather than simply preparing for the next exam. There was true ownership in their learning and behavior.
On the contrary, do you have students who sleep in class, check their cell phones constantly, and incessantly talk to the person next to them? I am sure you do, and so do I. How can we help these “poor” students become more like the “good” students?
One thing I do is to make my behavior expectations clear. I have my students read them together the first day of class. The following expectations are for first semester freshmen and are not perfect, but I hope it shows some possible ways to help students be more responsible for their own learning.
What would happen if I negotiated these with my students at the beginning of the semester? Would they be more encouraged to take ownership if we decided on the expectations together?
Let me share a story. Three students in one of my classes don’t seem to care about learning. They are seldom, if ever, prepared for class and don’t know any answers to my questions. I am convinced it is not because these students’ English levels are low. As I was sharing with a colleague about how much time these students use their cell phones for non-class related activities, she asked me if I had considered simply banning all cell phone use in class. That would solve the problem, but it would not help them be more responsible. Also, it would harm the other students who use their cell phones responsibly.
I spoke to two of the three students recently. I suggested that they not sit together in class and asked them to sit in the front of the classroom because I think they will be able to concentrate better. I made the suggestion (not a command), and I was willing to discuss further if the students disagreed with me or were unwilling to move and not sit together. I had a few more ideas, but fortunately they agreed with my suggestions. The two are doing much better now. Honestly, the third student still puts forth little effort, but he is not distracting me or other students anymore.
How could I have helped these three students come to their own conclusions about their behavior? Would that have helped them take even more ownership?
I share this story to illustrate that there are no simple methods to helping students become more responsible learners. However, this is one of our goals as educators. By engaging students in conversation and getting them involved in solutions for their own behavior, we help them take ownership of their behavior and their learning as well.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.