What Makes a Good Student?

What Makes a Good Student?

Image by eommina from Pixabay

When I think of a “good” student I think of a student who…

  • pays attention in class
  • finishes work on time
  • respects those around them
  • raises a hand to correctly answer a question
  • gets good grades 

In ECS 210 this past week we looked at the importance placed on a few areas in schools. In general, we agreed that student punctuality, good behaviour, and ability to do well on a test were believed to be important. Although we may see the issues with such importance placed on these areas at times, it is what we are “used to”. It comes back to our own common sense understanding of school and what our comprehension of a “good” student is, based upon our surroundings and past experiences. If we look back at Kumashiro’s writing in The Problem of Common Sense, as discussed in my first post, we see how students in Nepal would consider a “good student” to be. A “good” student in Nepal would complete the textbook work and simply follow the “lecture-practice-exam” (p. XXXI) style without question. This, privileging the students who tend to do well with textbook work and tests.

Looking again at the poll we took in class, it was interesting to see how art had little importance in our understanding of what’s important at school. In my small group discussion in class, we concluded that this did not surprise us. While schools tend to privilege students who excel with test taking and other forms of traditional assessment, students who excel in other areas, like art, are often viewed as “less than”. This has been ingrained into our “common sense” understanding of a “good” student in North America, leaving us with an oppressive and narrow view of the model student.

Furthermore, as we have our own understanding of a “good” student here in North America, students coming from different countries may have a harder time trying to fit in to this narrow understanding. As “common sense” differs for everyone, so too does our understanding of a “good” student. 

“There is something oppressive about what we often say it means to be a student and, simultaneously, what it means to learn.”

(Kumashiro, 2010, p. 23)

As Kumashiro stated, “views do not arise from nowhere” (2010, p. 28). This “good” student image has been carved from many past historical factors and our overall limited view of what makes a student good. As we read the first few sections of Painter’s 1886, A History of Education, it was clear that ideas of what makes a “good” student have somewhat remained the same over time. It is still often the students who pay attention, are not too loud, get good grades, and are punctual, that are privileged in school.

With this said, I believe today educators are looking for ways to involve all different types of learners in the classroom. We are challenging our “common sense” ideas of what makes a “good” student. We are becoming more willing to face the uncomfortable topics as Kumashiro talks about. It is through these changes, and ultimately the changes of society around us that our understanding of a “good” student can be reshaped.

So, as we enter the classroom I challenge us all to break away from our “good” student image, looking beyond the potentially harmful status quo definition.

5 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Student?

  1. Hi Tamantha, I really enjoyed your post. You end off with some encouragement, for us as future educators, to move away from teaching with this perception of a “good student” and to look beyond things like simply paying attention in class and being respectful towards others. What do you think are some ways that we can start to do this? Are there any specific examples that you can think of where an educator can start to spark change to the definition of what makes a “good student” without verbally expressing these ideas? Is there a way non-verbally that you think teachers can begin to reshape this idea of what makes a “good student?” I look forward to hearing your ideas 🙂

    1. Thanks Taylor! Great questions. Obviously, verbally we can encourage students in their varying interests, as everyone has different areas/activities that they enjoy. We can also move away to some degree from traditional forms of assessment to help include all types of learners.
      I think one way to reshape our definition non-verbally begins with our own minds and ‘common sense’ understandings. Personally, I am the ‘good’ student image, so I need to reflect on how that affects my classroom practices, again, making sure I’m not just encouraging/tailoring to the ‘good’ student success image. One thing that came to mind was the example of doodling in class. For more traditional ways of learning doodling in your notebook was not allowed as it strayed from that ‘good’ student image of paying full attention in class. However, I know something like doodling possibly helps some learners focus. So, instead of verbally asking a student not to doodle, saying it’s too messy or distracting, try not saying anything (of course, within reason). Allowing something like that helps expand the image of learners in the classroom. Those little things shape the classroom environment and how students feel they need to behave or act in the room.
      Those were just a few quick thoughts, definitely valid questions to consider!

      1. Hi Tamantha, I really like how your bring up being aware of yourself fitting that “good student” image. I too consider myself to fit this image of a “good student.” I think this is such a great point that you bring up. Most likely we as future educators had a positive experience at school and many of us will have found ourselves fitting into this “good student” image and as such this may have a role in why we have chosen to become teachers in the first place. As you mention, this will undoubtedly impact our classroom guidelines that we develop. I really like your example of doodling and how in one lens it can be seen as a distraction and messy, however, in another it can be a way to help students stay focused and engaged. I can remember explicitly a elementary teacher I had who made a classmate of mine cry because she got so angry that she had put the title on the top line of her paper and not the first small line, and she had not used a particular colour of writing utensil to underline it. This teacher clearly embarrassed this student in front of everyone. I think this example fits perfectly with this topic on how this image of a “good student” is created in the classroom. Thanks again for sharing your great ideas! I had never thought about doodling this way 🙂

        1. Yes, our experiences will definitely affect our classroom practices in different ways, and I know the Levin excerpt we looked at mentioned that too.
          I appreciated the example you shared from your own classroom experience. I think the fact that you remember that incident also speaks to the role we play as educators and how what we say and do really matters. Your example emphasizes this “good student” image in the classroom environment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences! 🙂

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