Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Their Eight Secrets of Success
"What does it take to make an excellent student? The student who not only sits at the head of the class (and the horn section, the swim team, the debate society and yearbook) but also enjoys the respect and friendship of teachers and peers? The encouragement of a parent or two certainly provides a foundation. But to find out more, TIME interviewed dozens of superb students from across the country, along with their parents, teachers, mentors and friends. What emerged is some clear patterns and some lessons well worth studying."
1. "The Sweat Factor . . . A willingness to work flat-out is a trait found almost universally in the best students, says Karen Arnold, a Boston College associate professor of higher education. Arnold has spent 17 years following the lives of 81 Illinois students who graduated at the top of their class. These valedictorians, she found, relied less on native intelligence than on effort. 'They were hardworking. They were persistent. School was at the center of their lives.'"
2. "The Joy of Learning . . . Good students tend to have what teachers call a broad 'fund of knowledge.' They've been taken places; they've seen a bit of the world. If the family resources are slim, it might only be to the city park, a train yard or the kitchen of a restaurant. But the experience has been brought to life for them. 'I find the students I love will often say to me, 'My mom took me here' or 'My dad and I did this.' You know these parents are in their lives,' says Carol Klavins, who's been teaching middle-school science in central Florida for 31 years. 'So many kids never mention their parents!'"
3. "The Best SAT Prep . . . As director of admissions at highly selective Williams College in Massachusetts, Tom Parker is often asked by parents, 'What should I do to increase my child's scores on the Scholastic Assessment Tests or make him a better college candidate?' Start early, Parker tells them. 'The best SAT-preparation course in the world is to read to your children in bed when they're little. Eventually, if that's a wonderful experience for them, they'll start to read for themselves.' Parker says he has never met a kid with high scores on the verbal section of the sat who wasn't a passionate reader. 'At the breakfast table, these kids read the cereal boxes. That's what readers do!'
"The benefits of reading to kids may seem obvious, but parents tend to stop just when the child's own ability to get through a book is taking flight. Don't quit then! says Regie Routman, a nationally recognized expert on literacy and author of several books for teachers. 'Some of the best readers and writers--even in middle school and high school--have parents who are still reading to them. They'll be reading Beowulf and Macbeth and just enjoying the love of language with them.'"
4. "Grades Aren't Everything . . . Alfie Kohn, an educator in Cambridge, Mass., who writes and speaks on behavioral issues, is perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades, test scores and class rankings. All this, argues the author of the influential 1993 book Punished by Rewards and a new book, What to Look for in a Classroom, kills off the love of learning and replaces it with superficial, grade-grubbing behavior. Kohn is appalled by parents who try to motivate their kids by paying for good grades: 'You can almost watch the interest in learning evaporate before your eyes!'
"Kohn's advice to parents: Stop asking your kids how they did in school today, and ask instead about what they did. 'If you have five minutes, talk with your kids for five minutes about what unexpected ideas she came across, or how he feels when he figures something out. Help the child forget about grades, so learning has a chance.'"
5. "Feed Their Passions . . . The word passion comes up a lot when college admissions directors are asked what they look for in a student. 'There are lots of students out there who can do the work and get the A's," says Robert Kinnally, dean of admissions at Stanford University. "But who are the students who care deeply about the subject matter and will stay after to ask their teacher for another book?' . . . One place competitive colleges search for signs of genuine commitment is in extracurricular activities. For many students and their parents, extracurricular activities are a kind of flavor enhancer to sprinkle on a resume: a dash of music, a pinch of poetry club, a soupcon of athletics. But what folks like Kinnally know is that a meaty involvement with any of these activities builds valuable traits like persistence, leadership and the ability to work in teams. "
6. "That Special Teacher . . . Most outstanding students have an outstanding teacher lurking somewhere in their past, a teacher who somehow connected with them. Karen Arnold found this was true of the valedictorians she studied. Principals and parents confirm it. 'If you talk with kids, they will tell you about someone who has captured their imagination--gotten hold of them emotionally and intellectually,' says Fred Ginocchio, principal of Madison Middle School in Appleton, Wis."
7. "The Rules on Homework . . . If there is a rule on homework, it's this: let them do it in the way that works for them. Not every child needs silence and a desk facing the wall. Not every child can settle down to the task right after school.
"Another rule on homework: be involved, but not too much. Math-homework sessions at Mike Terry's house used to end in tears. 'I would lose patience with him,' admits Tom Terry, who excelled in math as a youth. 'Comparing him to the ways I might have done things at his age didn't work.' He had to learn to be less overbearing and to see things from his son's point of view. 'We care passionately about how he's doing, but we're just calmer on the outside.' "
8. "Stand Up and Cheer . . . Not every parent has the flexibility to leave work at 4 and finish up late at night. Still, making the effort to be present for a child's victories and milestones is vitally important, says Robert Weintraub, headmaster at Brookline High, where Sarah is a student: 'Parents must attend every event their child participates in--back-to-school night, plays, shows, games. The kids will say you don't need to come, but you do. It reinforces the importance of school.' Just as important, he says, is keeping the day-to-day dialogue going, no matter how reluctant a child might seem. Teenagers, in particular, will seem to push the parent away. 'Don't stop when your kid rejects you. Ask to see their papers and exams. The initial response to questions like 'What happened at school today?' may be 'Nothing.' You have to be persistent. School is a very important part of their lives.'"
"Can any child be a good student? Assuming good health and normal intelligence, the answer is probably yes. A great student? Maybe not. Some kids seem to be born organized and focused. Like Mike Terry, they have tidy rooms with a designated place for everything. Like Sarah Seidman, they have long attention spans at a young age. 'There's a strong correlation between a good student and things like time management and organization,' notes Dan Walls, dean of admissions of Emory University in Atlanta. Kids blessed with these qualities may have a natural advantage over kids who have to struggle to keep order--although those who keep up the struggle will ultimately develop persistence, the most valuable trait a student can have.
"For parents who despair of ever seeing an honor-roll mention, there is this bit of consolation from Arnold's valedictorian study. Conventionally good students tend to wind up as conventional successes. 'I hate to use the word conformists,' says Arnold of her high achievers, 'but they were aware of and willing to deal with the rules of the system.' Bill Gates was not a conventionally good student. Neither was Thomas Edison nor Ernest Hemingway nor most of the world's truly creative brains. But don't kid yourself either. It just isn't true that Einstein flunked out of math."
Once again, to read the whole article, go to the link at the top of the post.