Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Three Types of Students

First, I apologize. There are certainly more types of students than those that fit neatly into the three categories that I will suggest. However, it is, to some extent, beneficial to classify, to categorize students for the sake of considering what best affects student learning.
I often speak of there being three types of students. The first group of students are those who really do not need teachers and schools. These students are driven by curiosity and a desire to learn. They will learn in spite of all that we do as teachers. These students are not always the highest achievers in a school, because they may not be interested in learning what we are teaching. But without a doubt, these students will be learning.
The second type of student is the one who needs teachers only to do their jobs--prepare engaging lessons, provide challenging assignments that allow the students to use what they are learning, and provide an assessment of the students' work--feedback and praise. These students may be teacher pleasers and high-achievers, or they may be quite average. These students do not tend to be driven by their own curiosity as much as their need to please, their desire for rewards and accolades, or the fact that it is easier just to follow along.
The third type of student is the one who needs the teachers most desperately. These students often resist every effort of every teacher. They have often rejected school--perhaps because school has rejected them. Many of these teachers are what are referred to as intentional non-learners. It is not that these students cannot learn but that they are not interested in what we are teaching or have encountered too much negativity to risk trying. Often these students have learned that when they try, they fail. Therefore, if they do not try, they may still receive a failing grade, but they did not earn the grade. The teacher merely gave it to them. Sometimes the failing grade is their "badge of honor," for they set out to earn an F and the teacher's giving them the F is validation that they should not try. These students need us desperately to break the cycle, to give them a reason to try, to let them believe in themselves.
I often get ridiculed for being idealistic. I hope more teachers will be idealistic and we might help more of the students who need us.


  1. So how? How do you reach a student that resists every effort? How do you do that in a system designed for the masses and not for the needs of an individual learner? It's a nice ideal, but frustrating to strive for when the system itself is not supportive of the ideal.

  2. We've not been able to answer that question, Deanna. But I also believe that we haven't honestly asked that question before, and the first step toward answering the question is asking it. So, let's start there. What can we do?
    I'll begin with a suggestion and we can build on that. The first step is to get the student to try, which must be followed by the student being successful. This begins on the first day of the semester. The teacher designs a lesson that every student can complete successfully. The real purpose of the assignment is to teach students the procedures of the classroom. This assignment is due before students leave the classroom. When a student does not turn in the assignment, the teacher assigns an academic detention for the following day. The purpose of the detention is to get the assignment completed. This is covered in an article I've written called "A Statement on the Acceptance of Late School Work" on my web site found at www.brownsburg.k12.in.us/bhs.
    I will pursue this further...

  3. I'm wondering if you know how many teachers use the Academic Detention model and how successful do they find it. I find that some students are afraid of the stigma so they negotiate to get the missing work done pronto (before the scheduled academic detention); others welcome the opportunity for small-group or individual help; some only show up because their parents insist; and some don't bother to show up. It feels good to help kids catch up, but academic detention can be just one more crutch for students who are chronic wasters of their time and mine.