Alex is an outstanding student. She is well-organized, energetic, consistent in completing homework and acing tests. Her journal is a thing of beauty. She is, in a word, very successful at school.
I ask her how she feels the course is going for her. As I do with all my students who are doing well, I ask her whether she is ever bored, or whether the pace of the class lags for her.
“No”, she replies, “I wouldn’t say bored exactly. It’s true that I understand the material and am able to do the problem solving early on in the contract, but the activities that we do and the conversations we have in our study group keep it interesting for me.”
I remark on how she is assuming an increasing role as a teacher in her study group, particularly when they are reviewing homework and how helpful I am sure that is for the other students.
“How about the homework you are doing. Does it feel like busywork? Do you find yourself doing something just so you’ll reach the minimum required number for the contract?”
“No, I don’t think so. Even when I’m repeating working on problems after I’m able to do them successfully, it’s good practice, and it builds my confidence. It’s just that it’s at the same level of difficulty as before.”
“Alex,” I say to her, “you are clearly mastering the learning goals faster than the class at large. When you find yourself in that position, there are a couple of things you can do to keep it interesting and deepening your understanding at the same time. You can turn around and teach what you know. Teaching always solidifies and deepens your understanding. When others ask you questions, it is a perfect check-up on your level of mastery. You will be surprised by what they don’t understand and are asking you about, and that will test your own learning. You’re already doing that in your study group, and I’m noticing how often you are taking that role when you guys are going over your homework.”
“Yes, I’m really enjoying that. It keeps the work fresh in my mind and I agree, I learn a lot by trying to answer questions and explain what I know.”
“In addition to teaching what you know, a second option is to dive into the Above and Beyond items on the contract. That way you’ll keep the challenge at a level that’s appropriate for you. And in working at a more sophisticated level, you are also clearly ensuring your mastery of the level you’ll actually be tested on eventually.”
“I guess I should start taking on some of those A&B problem sets. I know I can do it, and I know that it keep it interesting.”
“So a goal for the second quarter would be to take on A&B items on the contract whenever you feel you have mastered the material and still have a few things to complete on the contract. Now think for a moment what you are doing here. You are volunteering to do challenging work, not because you will get credit for it or because it will raise your grade, but because you want to push the learning experience to the level that you are capable of. Have you ever done that before?”
“No, I can safely say I’ve never been in this position before now.”
“Well, congratulations. This is a major accomplishment. It has everything to do with being self-directed, and nothing to do with points or grade point averages.”
She knows this is true. She is clearly pleased with how this has developed, and rightfully so.