November 5, 2004

What makes a student a *GREAT* student?

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote a letter of recommendation for a former student who was applying for an internship. He was an excellent student, and as I sat down to write, I collected my thoughts as to why I consider him a great student. After all, I knew why, but I had to explain it to a committee who would decide whether or not he'd get the internship. Then I realized that I was making an evaluation argument. I want to pass my thoughts on to you, not only because I'll be giving you an example of an evaluation argument, but because perhaps in doing so I'll be making explicit some tacit, unwritten rules that will help you out as you continue in college. In the letter, I wrote:


While in my class, he was remarkably conscientious, motivated, and professional in his approach to his work and appreciative of constructive criticism and feedback. He consistently set high standards for himself. These principles were not only reflected in his work, but were easily recognizable in his conduct vis--vis his classmates.

I've left out specific examples to protect this student's privacy, but I'll explain them on a general level here, using the formula in Chapter 14:

"X is a good Y because it meets criteria A, B, and C."

When I think of a good student, I think of the following criteria:

  • One who has a genuine desire to learn

  • One who sets consistently high standards for himself or herself: These students always meet the requirements, and they take themselves seriously as writers and as intellectuals. They know they can do great work when they put their minds to it, and they do consistently put their minds to it. They are never lazy. They think through complex issues rigorously, and they take pains to find the best, most current, credible sources. If they realize they can improve on some aspect of their work, they do it.

  • One who is invested in his or her work and who takes pride in it, but not so much pride that he or she gets angry if someone points out areas that need improvement. These students want honest criticism and actively seek it out; they want to know if they need to clarify their points, support them more fully, or rethink the project altogether. They don't ask, "What do I have to do in order to get an A?" Rather, they ask, "What should I do in order to make this work better?" These students do such well-thought-out and well-researched and supported work that they get A's anyway, usually because they have solicited comments before the assignment was due.

  • One who is a good classroom citizen: This means taking class time seriously and always showing respect to classmates.

If I were making an evaluation argument about a specific person, I'd include specific examples, anecdotes, and perhaps quotations from other students as evidence to support my claim that X student meets the "high standards for herself" criterion and/or the "good classroom citizen" criterion. I hope this example helps show you how to construct an evaluation argument and answers your "What's the secret?" question. Have a fantastic weekend! :-)

Posted by at 11:30 AM