I enjoy browsing the Quora website https://www.quora.com/. A wide variety of questions are posed, answers are submitted, voting occurs to determine the most liked answers, and an answer is posted on the site. Readers can provide responses to the answer. Some of the topic areas covered include Wisdom, Intelligence, Education, and Psychology of Everyday Life.

The following question recently caught my attention:

As a professor how do you recognize that one student is wiser/smarter than others?

It seems to me that this question may be of interest to teachers at all levels and in all subject areas. The published answer was written by David Maier (2015), a son of a very long personal friend and colleague of mine. As you read Maier’s brief answer, start thinking about how it might be applicable to K-12 teaching. Quoting Maier:

Some clues that a student is exceptional:

He or she ...

    1. finds an error in my lecture notes that has been there for four years.
    2. asks a question I never thought to ask myself (and is relevant).
    3. gets 100% on an exam. (I design my exams to get a large spread on marks.)
    4. asks a question that sets up next week's lecture.
    5. turns in a homework answer that is more elegant than the sample solution I was thinking of.
    6. does about 5 times of what I expect on a class project, without seeming to break a sweat.
    7. teaches me something I didn't know.

Some of My Thoughts

This section assumes you are a teacher and/or someone (such as a parent) who helps children learn. It addresses the seven issues listed ny Maier.

Finds an Error

It is easy to make mistakes when solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and explaining material to students. Students might well “catch” an error in spelling, an error in arithmetic, or an error in the date of some important event. You have probably heard Alexander Pope’s statement, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Pope was an 18th century satirical writer, and his quoted statement was written as part of a discussion about sin.

Think instead about students learning that even adults can make mistakes, and students having  teachers and parents who handle such mistakes appropriately when students make them. A mistake by a teacher, whether it is detected by a student or by the teacher, is a valuable learning opportunity!

Asks Relevant Questions

Young children tend to be fountains of questions. I am reminded of the quote, “There are no stupid questions.” Quoting from the Wikipedia:

'(There's) no such thing as a stupid question' is a popular phrase that has had a long history. It suggests that the quest for knowledge includes failure, and that just because one person may know less than others they should not be afraid to ask rather than pretend they already know. In many cases multiple people may not know but are too afraid to ask the "stupid question"; the one who asks the question may in fact be doing a service to those around them.

Thus, teachers need to encourage their students to ask question and to treat questions with respect. The issue is not whether the teacher has already thought of the question. Rather, the issue is the free flowing and respectful interaction that the question promotes.

Gets 100% on an Exam

It can be relatively easy for “smart” or “dedicated” students to score 100% on a test for facts, such as in spelling or simple arithmetic. Higher education focuses not only on learning facts, but also on the deep thinking and problem solving use of the facts. A student’s analysis of a writer’s work (such as a story or poem) is graded on the insights and understanding displayed in the student’s work.

Maier emphasizes his desire to get a good distribution of scores on his computer science tests. This goal is common in higher education, and it should be suggestive to teachers at all levels. One of the goals in teaching is to challenge students. Giving tests in which a number of students score 100% is (in my opinion) not verh conducive to moving students forward in their intellectual development.

Asks Leading Questions

In my teaching, I was always happy to receive a question that provided a lead in to the next topic I was going to present. To me, this suggested that the student was following the material I was presenting and wanted me to move forward into the next topic in my presentation.

At any grade level, a teacher can introduce a topic, ask students about what they already know about the topic, and ask them what they might want to learn about the topic. As students reach the cognitive development level at which they can profit by small group discussions based on such questions, these discussions can be an important aspect of teaching and learning.

Turns in Elegant Homework

Think about the nature of a homework assignment that provides a student with the opportunity to produce “elegant” answers. Contrast this with the “busy body” homework that is often assigned in precollege education. The former tends to allow and indeed require use of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills. The latter tends to focus on routine practice of lower-order knowledge and skills.

At the precollege level, homework tends to have a variety of purposes. For example:

  1. One goal is to help students make progress in taking personal responsibility for doing and turning in the homework. We want students to learn to learn on their own. We want them to learn about taking responsibility for accomplishing tasks such as doing homework and turning it in on time.
  2. Another goal, especially with younger students, is to involve the parents. We want students and parents to learn from each other and to participate together in children’s learning.

As students gain in cognitive maturity, homework can be a vehicle that teachers use to monitor a student’s learning and to provide individualized feedback. At the secondary school and college level, homework often involves more extensive projects and writing assignments. Such homework allows a student to demonstrate knowledge, skills, perseverance, and learning of a quite different nature than is demonstrated in quizzes and major exams.

Does Outstanding Work on Class Projects

I have long been a proponent of Project-Based Learning (PBL). Click here for my IAE-pedia article on general aspects of PBL, and here for my IAE-pedia article on PBL in math education. The open-ended design of of good PBL projects is a key aspect of their value in teaching and learning. And, as Maier points out, projects can  allow a student to really shine.

Teaches the Teacher Something

One of the reasons being a teacher is so much fun is that the teacher has the opportunity to learn from the students. For me, my lifelong career as a teacher has been particularly rewarding because it has allowed and required me to be a lifelong learner.

Teaching (and writing for educators) requires not only a knowledge of the subject area, but also knowledge about teachers, students, learning theory, teaching theory, and so on. The good teacher learns every day. An important part of this learning comes from the full range of students being taught.

Final Remarks

Informal and formal education is a process that accompanies and facilitates a child’s growing from infancy to adulthood—and beyond. I think of such education as helping a person to develop and learn to make use of their natural talents. Some students are better than others in the curriculum areas that our schools consider to be important. However, all students have the potential for learning and cognitive growth, and it is of crucial importance that our schools help to provide this opportunity.

What You Can Do

The Quora website provides an opportunity for people to raise questions and to get a variety of responses. The IAE Blog entries typically raise questions and provide brief introductions to some possible answers. Here is a challenge for you. When you read an IAE Blog entry, think about what you can contribute to an answer—and then add your response to the Comments at the very end of the entry.

If you have a question that you feel is of general interest, you can include it is the Comments section or send it directly to me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

References and Resources

Maier, D. (2015). As a professor, how do you recognize that one student is wiser/smarter than others? Quora. Retrieved 10/11/2015 from https://www.quora.com/As-a-professor-how-do-you-recognize-that-one-student-is-wiser-smarter-than-others.

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R., eds. (10/9/2015). Validity and credibility of information. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download a free Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/275-validity-and-credibility-of-information/file.html. Download a free PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/277-validity-and-credibility-of-information-2/file.html.

Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. HTML: http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science. Download a free Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/270-brain-science-for-educators-and-parents.html. Download a free PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/271-brain-science-for-educators-and-parents.html.

Moursund, D. (2015). Education for increasing expertise. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/11/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Education_for_Increasing_Expertise.

Moursund, D. (2015). Math project-based learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/11/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Math_Project-based_Learning.

Moursund, D. (2015). Project-based learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/11/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Project-based_Learning.

Moursund, D. (2015). Technology and problem solving. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 9/23/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Technology_and_Problem_Solving. Download a free Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/266-technology-and-problem-solving-in-prek-12-education.html. Download a free PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/267-technology-and-problem-solving-in-prek-12-education-1.html.