What is a student?
For many of us (including me) the first thought that comes to mind is something like, "A person who is learning from a teacher." This is natural. After all, when asked, we see a mental picture of a child sitting in a classroom with a teacher. We might even see a vision of ourselves at some point in our educational journey.
For others, those of us who are precise and who like to make things, "official," we might do a quick online dictionary search for a definition.
On the other hand, this question is potentially so powerful that a simple online search or "knee jerk" response cannot nearly do it justice. At its core, "What is a student?" is asking us to reflect deeply on the role students play in their education and, thus, the role teachers and parents (families) play in supporting students' work.
Here are a couple of examples of how the answer impacts the educational process.
A student is a receiver of an education vs. A student is a producer of educated work
As a receiver of an education, students play a passive role. The expectation is that they show up and the teacher gives them what they need to know. In addition, this passive role does little to focus on important skill development. Skills such as relationship building, nurturing connections, communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking are addressed superficially and developed as a by-product of receiving the education instead of being a core component to the experience in school.
The student as a producer of educated work is an active participant in process. Academic maturity, independence, and ownership of learning are clear objectives. Important skills are at the core of the education and are developed purposefully. Teachers design and provide opportunities for students to develop these skills while learning, analyzing, synthesizing, and applying important facts and concepts.
A student is a knowledge seeker vs. A student is a knowledge creator
The knowledge seeking student is on a mission or journey to find answers to his questions. He is passionate about identifying how he can more deeply understand concepts. Once identified, he seeks the wisdom of others, often experts in the field, to help him fill in the blanks. Becoming an expert himself is a motivating factor in this student's drive to learn. In most cases, the only beneficiary of the knowledge seeker's process is the seeker himself.
The knowledge creating student is also on a mission. However, unlike the knowledge seeker, this student places value on sharing what he has learned in order to improve the collective understanding of his peer group. The act of sharing also allows for more voices to provide feedback. Thus, his level of understanding is shaped more by the work of many interested parties instead of a few number of experts. The knowledge creator is passionate about learning, but in a way that leverages connections and collaboration. The knowledge creator's process benefits the learner and his peer group.
As with many reflection exercises, there really are no right or wrong answers, only those that spark ideas and additional conversation. However, as schools seek to better serve the needs of students it is important to have an informed opinion about the role of students and how to better support that role.