Students vs. Learners: Who Would You Rather Have in Your Class?

Students and learners may, on the surface, seem similar, but in reality the embodiment of each term is very different.  Let’s take a closer look at each one using some general scenarios.

A good student walks into school and arrives to homeroom on time. She has all the things she needs to get through the day: pencils, back up pencils, pens, back up pens, textbooks, and homework—completed of course.  The good student arrives to class on time every day and completes the Do Now in the given amount of time.  She raises her hand to answer the teacher’s questions, she completes the day’s assignments and might even start her homework early. She always meets work deadlines and would never dream of handing in anything late.  She is every teacher’s dream.

A good learner walks into school and arrives on time; though this is not an every day occurrence. The good learner has a pen, or a pencil, or a colored pencil, or a crayon, or anything that will mark paper well enough to be seen clearly. This learner’s textbook is in his locker—he borrows from a friend if needs a book because he often forgets to bring his own—and the homework is only half complete, which is pretty typical. The learner arrives to class on time; though this is not an every day occurrence either. His Do Now answer is essentially wrong because he doesn’t answer the question but poses more questions to you and his classmates.  He continuously asks for clarification throughout the lesson and has incessant questions about the day’s assignments. He graciously takes his homework at the end of class, but only to be half complete when he arrives late to class to hand it in the next day. He is not every teacher’s dream.

So, which one is better? Most of your are thinking, well THAT’S a no-brainer!

The good student arrives on time and is pleasant and compliant.  If we had a classroom full of good students our jobs would be easy, right?

Right.  But at what expense?

Let’s delve a bit deeper into understanding our good learner for a moment.


Complaint #1: “He’s late!”

Does it really matter if the student arrives late to homeroom?  Really.  Think about it. Being late to homeroom has a nominal impact on his academic skills, his grades, and his ability to get into a decent college, graduate with a degree, and become a normal, contributing citizen of society.  (Now, do we condone lateness, no, but let’s throw the guy a bone on this one.)


Complaint #2: “I never know what this kid is going to write with!”

So? Why do you care so much?  If you can read what he wrote, why does it matter what color it is or the medium in which it is written?  (Maybe you have a hard time reading certain colored ink. It is absolutely legitimate to request students use certain colors over others, but your students should know this and if they use the wrong color, well, that’s a strike, buddy. You have to know your audience.) The point is, if the learner is doing his work well and you can read it, it doesn’t matter if he writes in ink, graphite, or blood.


Complaint #3: “He’s unprepared!”

Three words.  Not.  Your.  Problem.  He never once asked you to go to his locker or to borrow a book, so it seems he took care of the problem himself.  Maybe he shared with a friend, found a rogue copy under a desk, or took a picture of the assignment page and looked at it on his phone or tablet.  This ingenuity should be applauded. He didn’t interrupt class, he wasn’t rude, and he found a solution. 


Complaint #4: “Not only is he late to homeroom, he’s late to class, too!”

Every good teacher uses Do Nows these days, they are staple in a well-structured classroom, so if your learner strolls in a few mere moments after the DING!, not to worry, they know what to do. 


Complaint #5: “He only did half the homework!”

You ask your learner, “why did you only do half the homework?” The reply: “Well, I was up really late because I had practice yesterday—“ You’re thinking: of course!  Practice! Sports are always more important than academics! when he surprises you and finishes the statement with “so, I only worked on the ones I didn’t know the answers to right away.  I knew all of the other ones, so I didn’t really focus on those.”  You have no rebuttal. How can you fault your learner for only working on the parts of the homework that truly challenged him and helped him learn and improve his skills?


Complaint #6: “He didn’t complete the Do Now and his answer was off topic!”

Again, you ask your young charge why he did not complete his Do Now.  “Well,” he says, as you brace yourself for the impact: “I didn’t know the answer…” But no.  He doesn’t say that. He says, “well, I thought I had the answer but I also had a few questions, so I wrote them down to be sure you knew where I was confused.” Sigh.  This kid is good.


Complaint #7: “He’s not paying attention! He keeps asking for clarification and then he has all these questions about the work!”

For the learner to understand that he is confused about a concept is a rare skill.  Many students let information flow over them and then they wait for the light bulb to go off, and sometimes it never does.  Had they asked for clarification and help, maybe they would have that light-bulb moment. The learner is light years ahead of the student in this case. 


So, what have we learned about learners? They are a much more complex and sophisticated breed than students.  Learners focus on challenges and improving their skills; students settle for compliance.  Learners approach life differently.  They see (and seize) opportunities to learn.  They know how to learn and how to get better at learning. They don’t just drift through life and do what they are told, they continue to move, whereas students eventually stall.  Obedience is finite and will only take them so far. Now, do we want our learners to be good students, too?  Of course!  We need to teach our charges soft skills as well, but it is so important to foster the learner in every student, too.

I ask you again.  Which would you rather have as your future doctors, engineers, pharmacists, teachers, lawyers, accountants, or CEOs? People who bring the right color pen to work or people who care to dig deeper into their professions in order to learn, grow, and possibly change the world? 

Now, that decision is a no-brainer.


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