Monday, April 23, 2007

The perfect student

One who will do anything!

The days are dwindling down to a precious few. Some students have finally noticed. (It's about time!) The ones who have been planning to “catch up” and do some studying “later” are realizing that “later” has arrived. Many of them check to see if they still have time to drop the classes they've been neglecting. Others opt for desperate measures: They contact their teacher.

A colleague recently received the following frantic e-mail, which I present just as the student wrote it (except for rendering it anonymous):
Dear Professor,

My name is Mary Jane Doe, and I attend your M/W Intro to Stats class. At this point in the sememster I know my grade is not where it needs to be. I need this class for my GE and tranfer agreement. Is there anything I can do to bring up my grade to a passing C? I know I have done poorly on the test and my attendence has not been steller. But, sir please I will do anything and everything I can to pass your class. Please give me guidance on how to proceed from here. Thank you for your time. If you could help me in anyway I will be forever in your debt.


Mary Jane Doe

Ah, yes. Another one of those students who “will do anything and everything” to pass the class. Whatever could she mean by that? We know she doesn't mean actually coming to class or doing assignments. Perhaps she would like some nice extra credit?

Seeing the possibility of one of those teachable moments, my colleague seized his opportunity and sprang into action. He wrote back:
Hello Mary Jane,

In light of your current class average, it is highly unlikely that you will pass this course. I recommend that you drop the class and retake statistics next semester.

Professor ABC

He told me later that he was richly rewarded for his efforts: She wised up and dropped the class. Perhaps she'll enroll in one of his sections next fall, in which case he can remind her that she's willing to do “anything” to get a passing grade. I know him. He'll give her a syllabus and point to the homework assignments. If she does them for a change, then her otherwise wasted current semester will not have been entirely in vain.


Lifewish said...

A confession: I pretty much matched the archetype you described throughout my three-year university career.

The problem is that, as a result, I never really got my head round what made one a good student. This is an issue because I'm partway through a distance learning course and I can see my old bad habits starting to kick in.

I have a pressing desire to fully earn my qualification here. Posts like this one help me spot the bad behaviours and correct them, but do you have any suggestions for good behaviours that I can replace them with? What makes a perfect student?

Anonymous said...

I was listening in on a conversation a student in my intro to stats class had today. She was discussing how she was barely going to pass with a D. She said she didn't care what her GPA was, she just wanted to get her degree and get out of there. I couldn't help but wonder if she would ever give more to a job (or anything else in her life) than that same, minimal effort.

My suggestion to lifewish is to realize it's more than just a degree. You have an opportunity to learn things that will make your life richer. If you are in a class for a grade, that's all you'll get. If you are in the class to learn and be more, the grades will take care of themselves.

Beans said...

Anon- I agree with you. I've met quite a few students doing degrees for the sake of it. Mostly some people have no idea what they want to do, hence choose any course just to experience 'uni life'.

Although I'm not sure about the grades taking care of themselves! :D

Zeno said...

Thanks for the constructive comments! For Lifewish, I would note that a really good student probably has more self-knowledge than his or her classmates. That is, the student has a realistic assessment of how much preparation he or she has for the course and how much time can reasonably be budgeted for study and problem-solving. Students who fail are often completely unrealistic about the unit loads they can carry given their work/family/life circumstances or the level of course they can master given their track record in the past.

As for useful habits, I recommend making a special point of doing something every day. Every day. Even if it's just a little. Do a page of reading. Solve a homework problem. Make a list of formulas. The trick is to establish a habit of forward progress. Success usually requires that you do more than invest just a tiny amount of time per day, but the commitment of some time every day embeds your studies into your routine and dramatically increases the chances you'll keep trucking along.

mark said...


We agree with your observations in the declination of the student habits. We decided to do something about it by creating a program that does what you are suggesting "Success usually requires that you do more than invest just a tiny amount of time per day, but the commitment of some time every day embeds your studies into your routine and dramatically increases the chances you'll keep trucking along." our app was made to help students quickly make and update their task lists daily. We have developed algorithms to analyze how to best break up the tasks to make the process really simple. We have students now in over 40 countries using the app, it has been a really exciting thing for us to see our idea grow.

Best Wishes,

Lifewish said...

Zeno: Thanks, that sounds like excellent advice. I will attempt to apply it forthwith.