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Notes on Strong Students
 by Mendi Lewis

Students who do well are conscientious, curious, passionate, and self-motivated. While they strive for As, As are not the end. They enjoy the work, learning, and challenge. They almost never miss class. They value the time we share in class and make it count.  Successful students are prepared for class. They have read the assignment and come ready to discuss  what they have learned. They also often share information they have read elsewhere. They show interest in the class and the subject. They look up what they dont understand. They often ask interesting questions or make thoughtful comments.

Students  who do well remember ideas from early on in the semester or from things they have read before. They make connections between these ideas. They bring a background with them to class.  These students have determination and self-discipline. They have initiative. They do things they have  not been told to do. They think of themselves as scholars. They love learning.

Strong students are often people who have already been affirmed as talented. They have something special and want to share it. However, they are also people who have not been affirmed in this way before. Sometimes these students come to college without having discovered their gift. They come,  however, with an attitude that allows them to find it. When they come upon a process that works for them, they delight in it. They appreciate their talent for the work it allows them to do. They stretch  assignments. Their work is a pleasure to grade.

Practices of Strong Students:

Dont confuse grades with growth.
Most students want to develop intellectually and make good grades. Strategize towards these goals, but recognize that the fact that you are learning and growing does not mean that you are demonstrating that growth. Know, also, that what is important to you may not be what is important to the teacher. As you do your work, make sure you are doing all that you can do towards the ends of the class. Likewise, as you are accomplishing what you need to accomplish to make good grades in the class, don't forget to develop your knowledge in the areas you find interesting. Don't leave your learning up to anyone else.

Find, then demonstrate passion.
Learn what gives you joy, what is important to you, what can get you excited about learning. Then look for those things in each of your classes. Challenge yourself to find something wonderful about each class you take. It is wonderful when your feelings about a subject and your interactions with a teacher are all positive, but they won't always be. Sometimes you will just know that the discipline is one which intersects with yours down the road. Other times you will just get along with the teacher. Still other times, you will not get along with the teacher, but love the subject. Whatever the case, learn to motivate yourself. Make the courses intersection with your personal intellectual interests known to your teacher. Your teacher will likely appreciate your interests and may even gear the course in that direction.

Come to class with questions.
Work beyond the call of duty and demonstrate it. Finish reading or other assignments early so you can digest the ideas, consider what questions are left unanswered for you. If you have a chance, ask them in class. If not, discuss them after class or make an appointment with your professor. By asking these questions, you are not only distinguishing yourself, you are assuring that your interests will receive more attention in the class.  You will also begin to see which questions are have more relevance for the course and which are not as relevant. Take clues; note your professors remarks. You are sure to get some sense of what will appear on tests. Your interests may even shape them.

Visit your professors.
You should meet with professors who are willing to meet with you two or three times a semester. In the beginning of the semester, introduce yourself and some of your interests. I once had a student do this immediately after the first day of class. He gave me a mnemonic device to remember and walked me to my car. His is the only name I consistently remember out of the members of that class. You should also meet with professors before tests to ask for study tips. Sometimes you will hear them talk out questions or general concerns they are thinking of putting on exams. Take any opportunity to show professors your rough drafts of papers or discuss anxieties you have about your performance. I have often been pushed to think about what Im expecting on papers and exams by persistent students. Those students inevitably get the clearest advice about how to do well in my course. Teachers want students who appear to care to do well. Meeting one-on-one with them will help demonstrate your concern.

Study in groups.
Studying in groups, when used in concert with individual study, can bolster confidence and performance. There is nothing wrong with being competitive as a student as long as you don't compete by withholding knowledge. It is much more fruitful for everyone if you work together and take collective responsibility for the good of a group. Study groups can raise the level of understanding in a community and help individuals distinguish themselves within a much more competent (and therefore more helpful) group of people. Have enough confidence in yourself and enough respect for your colleagues to collaborate.

Have pride in your work.
When turning in papers, type them and follow any instructions given.  Do not dog-ear, wrinkle, or stain pages. Make sure your papers are free of errors. Don't depend on spell check. Print out your work and read it aloud. Sloppiness is taken as a sign of disrespect for the subject, the teacher, and your own work. On the other hand, neat, easy to navigate work will be noted and appreciated.

For example, if my algebra class is just starting to work with word problems, I might include tips on how to approach the next problem set. Or if they're working on a writing project, I could include some hints on how to construct a paragraph, a topic sentence, or a short essay.

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How to Get a Good Letter of Recommendation

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all rights reserved Mendi Lewis copyright 2000
updated 1.19.04