How to Be a Good Student

What does it mean to be a “good” student?

I don’t believe that there is one set of rules that dictate what a good student should do or what their classroom performance looks like since every individual in the classroom is going to be different. They may have different learning styles, different academic needs, different cultural practices, etc. What a “good” student may look like will also differentiate between different cultures. To me, a “good” student is someone who takes charge of their learning; they aren’t afraid to ask questions or risk being wrong, instead, they are naturally curious and put their best effort into their work (even if that effort is small I think that it is important to celebrate the little wins to help motivate our students). However, I think that the traditional view of what is perceived as a “good” student as someone who causes the least amount of trouble in the classroom.

Back in 1886, Painter (1886) describes that in China, a “good” student is someone who is able to learn how to read and write around six or seven years old by repeating the names of the Chinese characters back to the teacher, or else they will not receive further education. If the students to move on to higher education, they are taught the Chinese classics and the art of composition, and if they are able to pass countless examinators with thousands of competitors, they are deemed successful and they become a member of the Imperial Acadamy. Furthermore, Painter (1886) explains that in India in 1886, in order to even be a student, an individual had to be a part of three upper classes of the four principal classes and male. Again, in India, there is a great deal of repetition in the classroom. The students at the end of the day will recite the multiplication-table, the alphabet, and sacred hymns.

Even nowadays in 2019, there is still a lot of emphasis on a “good” student is able to repeat back material to their teacher. A “good” student will also follow instructions/rules well and display good behaviour (i.e. raising their hand before they speak instead of blurting out an answer).

I don’t think that if a student can regurgitate material back to their teacher makes them a “good” student, instead, it turns them into robots in a factory; they learn what they are told to learn, repeat it on their tests, and move on to the next grade.

What students are privileged by this definition of the “good” student?

I believe that the typically developing students are the ones that benefit the most from the definition of a “good” student. There is no recognition for the students who have trouble remembering the important parts of a lesson, students that need to show or express their learning in different ways, or students that have test anxiety. I understand that repetition is an effective way for students to remember information, as that is how, for example, famous literary works have continued to be known by so many people because so many people have repeated the same poem or story over and over again, but that does not make the material meaningful. I think there needs to be different forms of assessment and that questions on a test should not involve straight regurgitation, but have questions that relate the content to the student’s lives. And could there possibly be any other ways to help students remember material other than review?

What is made impossible to see/understand/believe because of these commonsense ideas?

I think that just like Kumashiro (2010) experienced a little bit of shock when his student, N, told him that the class was trying to figure out what his answer was to his question, it is hard for teachers to realize that they are teaching what is “supposed” to be taught and only sharing their opinions and viewpoints on a topic and do not really give the students to voice their opinions or the option to agree or disagree; how the information is taught is how it is. In other words, I think that teachers forget that opinions are subjective and not everyone is going to believe the same ideas as them. We, as teachers, need to give students the chance to come up about their own thoughts and opinions about course content by, for instance, asking students “why do you think…” questions or getting students to explain why they chose the answer they did on a multiple choice quiz. If this is done, I believe it stimulates thinking, encourages student autonomy, and the assessment of a student becomes more authentic.


Kumashiro, K. (2010). “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: What It Means to Be a Student.” Against Common Sense. Retrieved from

Painter, F.V.N. (1886). A History of Education. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “How to Be a Good Student

  1. I would agree with you that just because a student can regurgitate material does not make them “good”. But how do we change that when we have lived with years of this common sense?
    It’s hard for student to not want to strive for the good student model, especially when they get rewards for being “good”. In elementary school students are always reinforced and given treats or stickers for behaving and not talking to their neighbour.


    1. Hello, Daylia!
      Thank you for your engaging comment. Here is my opinion. Yes, in schools we have lived with years of the same definition of common sesnse. However, I think teachers need to stress how important it is for students to not only say or write what the teacher wants to hear, they also have to put in their opinion. For example, I want to be a high school English teacher. If I assign an essay for my students to write, none of the essays will be exactly the same. There will be evidence of the information they learnt in class, but then each student will analyze that information differently or put the information into their own words. I do not think that teachers can simply tell students the right answer to a problem; teachers are guides. Class discussion, assignments, and tests show that a student has come to class and listened, but it is also about making the course content meaningful and personal to them. Furthermore, yes, good behaviour is rewarded, but I do not think that is a bad thing. I believe that learning is self-motivated. When a student receives an award, it makes them feel good and they will want to continue doing well. Same thing when a student gets a good grade, they will want to continue to get 80’s or 90’s because they know they are capable of getting that grade. If they get a lower grade, at first they will be upset, but then they know they will need to work harder next time. How else would you motivate someone to learn? The only issue is with the reward system, is that you need to make sure that everyone is getting a reward, even if it is for something small. For instance, if you have a student who does not attend class regularly, I think that by addressing them and letting them know you enjoy their presence will help encourage them to try and get to school more. I hope this makes sense and I answered your question. I am curious to know your thoughts!


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