Professor Column

Are you a good student? For some of you, the answer is “Of course!” Others among you are probably thinking, “Maybe not the best, but I know who is!”

In the next minute, you would describe your classmate who sits in the front of the room and constantly raises her hand, the quiet one who does all of his work, and the one who is never absent.

You also mention the non-trads, because they are verbal and make learning look easy.

Because there is nothing overtly wrong with the behaviors of good students, would it seem odd to you if I said they do not always capture my intellect or imagination? That’s because, as Torrance (1965) argues in a small book on creativity and giftedness, some of the characteristics of good students are actually conforming, social behaviors rather than qualities of good learners.

He suggests that learning is a messier business, demanding risk and requiring courage. Good learners exercise independent thinking (and judgment) and exhibit curiosity.

As one freshman told me a long time ago, “I have to take this course and get a B or better if I want to earn my license to teach.” Would you understand if this approach to “schooling” saddens me a bit?

Learning is a process, something to engage in not just show up for. For me, students who are “good” have a range of strong, human and humane qualities; they are also those who attempt to pull together different aspects of our work, who don’t fear their own thinking, and who are willing to err in search of arriving at a better understanding.

But let’s imagine for a moment that description fits you, except that, sometimes, you are afraid to share your thoughts, perhaps because you are anxious you might have the wrong answer or that you will stumble trying to explain what you mean.

In either case, it’s safer not to speak isn’t it? Darn it, somewhere we learned that being a “good” student means being “right.” But when you worry about being right, getting an A, or not looking “dumb,” it pressures you and limits your willingness to take a risk with your thinking and develop your own ideas.

I suggest that you find courage, and heart! Think less about the grade than about the power of your ideas; expand your definition of “good” to include notions of risk, courage, experiment, and discovery! Honor all good work, yours and others’! Grow a definition of yourself as not only that “A” student, but also as a strong learner.

Challenge your professors with your thinking and encourage us with your diligence! We won’t let you down.