All classes contain students of mixed ability levels. However, performance in an end-of-year examination is more dependent on how hard a student is willing to work than on any measure of innate ability. Student learning correlates much more with “grit” than with talent. In other words, the more hours you study, the higher your grades will be.
In this article, I’m giving you my observations from a teacher’s perspective of what students in the top 20% (in terms of grades) tend to do.
1. They don’t play games on their iPad
Students with low scores tend to resort to picking up their iPads at every spare moment. iPad addiction is a typical sign that a student doesn’t spend any of their free moments reading or thinking. Successful students don’t usually have games on their iPad. If they do have games, they’ll be the more intellectually-stimulating ones such as Scrabble or quiz apps: you certainly won’t find an A-grade student frantically thumbing their iPad screen to Flappy Bird or Crossy Road between lessons.
2. They read the textbook at home, highlighting and annotating as they go
When I ask a class of students to open their textbooks to a certain page, four things happen:
- The most successful students open their books to those pages, which are already highlighted and annotated with key vocabulary circled and translated/explained in the margins (see picture above);
- The mid-range students open their textbooks, which look brand new;
- The least successful students do nothing because they weren’t listening;
- The remainder (if any) didn’t bring their book to school.
Reading the textbook before class does two things. First, it helps you to understand the lesson much better. It’s much more effective to read the textbook at home then ask questions in class than to learn the textbook in class then ask those questions at home. Second, a textbook that’s highlighted and annotated looks very impressive. Your teacher and classmates will be impressed.
3. They write neatly and colour-code their notes
Successful students use large, A4 notebooks. They write the date, title, and subheadings in the same places with the same colour pen. They don’t cram too much writing on one page, and they organise their notes heavily using subheadings.
An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.
4. They have a designated homework diary (or an app)
Successful students always remember to do their homework. They record their homework tasks in their diaries with due dates. Reminders for iOS does this job excellently.
5. They do all their homework on time
Even if the teacher forgets to ask to see students’ homework, the most successful students will actively hand it to their teacher because they’re proud of the work they’ve done.
Even if there’s no homework set, they’ll still spend time reading the textbook (or another relevant book) or watching YouTube videos to supplement their understand of what’s been taught. The most successful students are self-motivated.
6. They pay most attention to their teacher during the lesson
From experience, students who chat to each other too much tend to get low grades at the end of the year. They miss crucial instructions, homework, questions and information being delivered by the teacher. While it’s important to be sociable, the most successful students always pay more attention to their teacher than to their classmates.
“Students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.”
7. They ask questions after class and email their teachers at evenings/weekends with questions regarding the homework
Most days, I receive Chemistry-related emails from students. However, these emails are usually sent by the same 30% or so of the students I teach. The students with the habit of asking more questions—both inside and outside the classroom—tend to fare better in the end-of-year examination.
8. They understand that we learn primarily through reading, and that the classroom is just a place to discuss what they’ve read and put it into practice
Successful students learn more outside the classroom than in. They read the relevant textbook section before class; they come to class with questions about what they’ve read. They re-read the textbook section after the lesson as well. They know that the more times they read the textbook, the more they’ll learn and the better their scores will be in the end-of-year examination. They know that their textbook (not their teacher) is their primary learning resource, and that their success depends more on how many hours they put into studying than on how ‘good’ their teacher is.
9. They know when to say, “Sir, I don’t get this!”
This is one of the most valuable skills on this list: admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new. Successful students have the confidence to admit to things they don’t understand and are thus more receptive when their teachers explain them. In other words, it’s a dangerous habit to pretend that you actually understand something—this habit usually has disastrous consequences before the end of the year. In a classroom, always admit when you don’t understand something.
“admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new”
What do you think?
Are you a student who agrees/disagrees with these 9 observations? Are you a teacher with more observations to add to the list? Write them in the comments section below.
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