Why do some students learn more than other students, and what is an educator to do?Why do some students learn more than other students, and what is an educator to do?

Expert Answers
lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reasons students do or do not learn are tied to many factors, some beyond the control of even the most dedicated teacher.  Many students come to school ready to learn, and having been exposed to numerous enriching experiences as pre-schoolers; their parents have read to them, enrolled them in pre-school programs, and generally exposed them to a stimulating environment from birth.  However, sadly, many students come to school having had none of those experiences.  There are many, many children enrolled in America's schools who have received little or no intellectual stimulation at any level in childhood. While some children may start school already reading, others of the same age may have not even learned the alphabet yet.  This is the beginning of what is sometimes termed "the achievement gap."  Unfortunately, that gap tends to widen for some children, and by the onset of adolescence in the absence of support from home, many kids have lost interest in school, an endeavor in which they have been disadvantaged from the start. 

Educators commonly say that they believe all students can learn, and this is true.  However, the issue isn't if students CAN learn, it is whether they WILL learn, and another problem facing educators is the student who won't do anything in school.  These students are frequently not engaged in the teacher's instruction, and assignments are not completed, and/or handed in.  Another problem is the student who is not engaged in, nor paying attention to, the instruction, then either expects the teacher to repeat the entire lesson for him or her individually--which some teachers will do--or just attempts to slap down anything on paper, regardless of quality, to hand in so he/she can say they turned everything in.  In these days of rampant grade inflation, it is not unusual, especially in grade school, for a student who has always turned everything in, or most things in, to get all A's.  Sadly, the teachers who give all A's are often perceived as the best teachers; when a student arrives in a classroom where a teacher has high expectations, the student will struggle to meet them, receive lower grades, and then, unfortunately, many parents will assume it is the teacher's fault because "he's never gotten anything but A's".  As an educator for 15 years, I believe this may be one of the most serious problems in America's schools, and many people don't see it as a problem.  You simply cannot give kids all A's and continue to pass them on through school when they cannot meet a standard of quality; yet it happens every day in thousands of classrooms, many times causing the teacher of high expectations to be vilified and seen as an ogre. 

As educators, however, we must also heed the research that says that the single biggest impact on a child's learning is the teacher in the classroom.  So, while even the most gifted teacher cannot change external factor's in a child's life, quality does matter.  Additionally, there's plenty of research that shows that children WILL rise to higher expectations if we insist that they do.  That is one reason why the issues of grade inflation and lower expectations are so troubling to teachers who are trying to maintain a standard of quality.   At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex issue, it can probably be stated that home involvement or lack thereof, and school/teacher quality are probably the biggest factors impacting a child's learning in most cases. 

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many possible answers to this question!  How well a student learns depends on so many different factors.  You have to consider how they were raised, their intelligence level, how they learn best, how their teacher is teaching, what they are going through in their lives at that time, what their natural talents are, how much they have read in their lives, if they have learning disabilities, and so much more.  For example, if they were raised in a home where their caretakers read a lot of books, emphasized learning, pushed getting homework done, and communicated their desire for learning to be a priority, they will probably learn better than a student ina home where school isn't important and they don't read very often.  Then, there is the innate intelligence level; some kids are just smarter, at least at school.  Some kids are better at other things, but school is not there strong point.  There are different kinds of intelligence, and not every kid is talented at academics, but they might be good at emotional issues, or with mechanics.  Some kids are dealing with a lot of difficult situations in their lives; unstable homes, drugs, peer pressure, relationships, and often that gets in the way of learning their best.  Others have real learning disabilities that get in the way of learning.  Also, if the student has a teacher that only lectures, and the student learns better by doing things, they aren't going to learn as well.  So, it depends on how they learn best too; some kids have to do something to learn it, others can just read about it to learn it.  All of these issues play a role in how well a student learns, along with their level of motivation.  I believe that students can overcome many difficulties and challenges if they work hard and have help.

Teachers can help by knowing their students, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they learn best, and what will help them most.  If teachers teach in a lot of different ways, they will help more kids.  If they take time to know the kids a bit, they can give more personalized care.  Also, special education and resource teachers can help students who really struggle; if they work with their regular teachers, a lot of good can be done.

The questions you raise are good ones, and very important in education, and in determining the success of students.  I wish you luck!

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not know the answer to the first part of your question, but I speculate that learning styles and inclinations to learn (or not) are a combination of genetics and environmental influences. Nonetheless, I believe strongly that teachers can have a significant impact on the learning of students.

We all know that there are some students who are so motivated and well-prepared that they will learn and excel no matter what. While I believe that all students deserve excellent teaching, the most capable students will learn even if a can of corn is sitting in the teacher's chair. As a teacher, the greatest and most satisfying challenges for me come from students who fall into the middle and lower achievement categories. To elicit participation and learning from those students is truly the mark of an excellent teacher.

I believe that teachers must plan carefully to engage the students with a variety of activities over the course of a class period as well as over a week, month, unit, semester. In addition to varying the types of activities, it's essential to vary the groupings of students and to plan everything with the question in mind, "How will this activity help my students to know and be able to do what the standards require?'

Flexible, multi-option contracts for completion of a variety of assignments, some of which are non-negotiables that everyone must complete, are a great way to pique the interest of students who are not particularly motivated. Staggering deadlines and providing a college-style syllabus for high schoolers and middle schoolers is quite motivating. They are then able to complete assignments at their own pace rather than on the teacher's cue.

marilynn07 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is an educator to do?  Celebrate the real challenge of teaching.  If all we needed to do in order to teach was to give a clear lecture, we wouldn't bother with schools.  TVs could educate our kids.  The real challenge of teaching is to understand each kid and try to meet their needs.

I understand that this is extremely difficult in very large classrooms.  All you can really do then is to present your lessons using a variety of teaching approaches so that you will reach every kid at least some of the time.  Those that consistently aren't responding will generally have some sort of learning impediment and will need a more individually tailored approach.  Your job in this regard is to flag these individuals so they can be properly assessed.

You are right. There is a challenge of whetting the appetite of the young person to real learning.

The television and other entertainment is there to eat up time in non-academic pursuits, and with basic mind-numbing drivel.  Real learning may take place in a classroom, at a campsite, in a public library or museum.

The point of teaching is helping students figure out the questions and then find the answers.  I love it when I see the lights come on for my students.  I love it when they experience the desire to learn something new about a topic that is suddenly very interesting.

The biggest challenge I see in the classroom today is that the students really resent standardized tests, teaching to the test, and the feeling that all they need to know is on the test, so they don't need to learn any more than that much.

dswain001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If I had the answer and the remedy to this issue, I would be a very wealthy woman. The reasons for this are numerous. I can only speak from my own experiences as a teacher in an urban school. I have found that many of the students in my school lack parental support. A great number of them are foster children and live in group homes or with foster families that are not always as supportive as they should be. A  teacher can give their all while the student is in their classroom, but if there is no one at home to reinforce lessons or check to see that homework is being done, then it's like taking three steps ahead and two backwards.

Additionally, there are students whose parents simply have so many other things on their plates, that their child's education sometimes takes a backseat. I can't count the number of times I have conferenced with a parent who is working two jobs, 18 hours a day just to make ends meet. When they get home it's so late the children are already in bed and the parent is so exhausted that homework is the least of their worries.

I have had opportunities to teach in the elementary and secondary settings and I have found that there is more parental support in elementary schools. Parents are more involved in fundraisers and the PTA. They are more willing to volunteer at school functions. But, something happens between the time a child leaves 5th grade and enters into middle school. Maybe parents believe that their children are mature enough to be responsible for their education. There needs  to be more accountability on the part of the parents as well as the students.


drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Parental involvement, or lack thereof, is often blamed as a scapegoat for lack of student achievement, particularly for low-income and other at-promise students. (I prefer the term "at-promise" instead of "at-risk.") I am firmly of the opinion that there are many ways for parents to support their child's education that do not fall into the traditional categories of checking homework, volunteering at school, and attending parent conferences and PTA meetings.

Parents can be extremely involved via technology. A parent can communicate with a teacher by email, attend a meeting by webcam or conference call, or simply communicate by notes exchanged in the child's backpack.

Teachers and administrators must take care not to make character judgments against parents who do not demonstrate "typical" involvement in their children's education compared to middle-class baby boomers. Falling into this trap can lead to blaming and scapegoating, instead of figuring out how best to help the child in the classroom during the school day. The quality of the teacher is the single most powerful variable in any child's education.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no denying that children learn differently, all one has to do is look at the research data collected over the past 10 years or so. Learning disabilities, language barriers, behavioral problems, family structure or lack of, and the list goes on. So you ask what can the educator do to educate in the face of all this? Education at the college level is attempting to address these issues by educating the future teacher. For example, different learning styles, understanding behavior, understanding communities and their impact on the schools. The best advise I have for teachers is to keep trying different methods and evaluate them. Go with what works, some students learn visually, give them visuals, others learn by listening, incorporate story like lessons, etc. Check out ERIC Digests.org it offers a tremendous amount of educational research information that will further answer your question.

cburr eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is an educator to do?  Celebrate the real challenge of teaching.  If all we needed to do in order to teach was to give a clear lecture, we wouldn't bother with schools.  TVs could educate our kids.  The real challenge of teaching is to understand each kid and try to meet their needs.

I understand that this is extremely difficult in very large classrooms.  All you can really do then is to present your lessons using a variety of teaching approaches so that you will reach every kid at least some of the time.  Those that consistently aren't responding will generally have some sort of learning impediment and will need a more individually tailored approach.  Your job in this regard is to flag these individuals so they can be properly assessed.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My only thought is a question:  How differently do they learn?  I know there are extreme cases, but in general, how important are all these differences that we speak of?  I don't know if there is a concept such as 1 standard deviation that applies to this, but I have always suspected that, although there are differences, most students can work with the instruction a teacher provides, perhaps with a little extra help/attention in some areas.

As a teacher, despite what I have been told and read, I don't know how much a teacher with 30 students (or even 20) can adjust instruction to help students outside the "standard deviation" ...

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Don't forget that one can only learn as much and as well as we are given the opportunity to do so.

Theoretically speaking, the frameworks are interminable: Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory; Vygotsky, Chomsky, Gardner, Skinner, Erickson, Piaget, Sternberg, etc.- and those are just the crust of the loaf.

Yet, ultimately, it depends on: The motivation of the student, the presentation of the topic and how the relationship between teacher and learner can ensure that both can be put to its utmost use.

crystaltu001 | Student

Some students learn more than others because they tend to do more work and study more than the other students . But it all depends on the intelligence that the student is at. Some students tend to work harder than other students so that is why they learn more than others. 

chrisyhsun | Student

Personally, I feel that if a student is struggling the biggest reason rests with the student himself. Learning is a personal process and while it is true that different people learn differently and teachers should try to make sure everyone fully understands the information, the teacher has too many students to handle to be expected to devote his/her time to essentially tutoring one student.

Some reasons for the difference in apparent learning by different students:

  • Interest - I think everyone is like this in that we are more likely to pay attention to what actually interests us. Textbooks are nice, but in-class lectures go a long way towards understanding and being interested and engaged in class can dramatically help a student's performance in class.
  • Initiative - maybe the student doesn't like math. He knows it, his friends know it, his teachers learn it. However, if he has the determination to do well in school, he might just buckle down and learn the information anyway. He'll do all his homework, review his notes, go in and ask the teacher anything he doesn't understand. It doesn't necessarily take interest to learn a subject.
  • Other factors - different students come from different backgrounds and a lot of these can influence learning. Poor socioeconomic conditions could lead to financial worries that (in the short term at least) dominate over educational worries. If a student is spending 5 hours every night at a job, it can't be expected that he knows the information as well as the other kid in his class who studies for 5 hours every night. If a student comes from a family with strong educational values, he/she might have more incentive (more initiative too) to do well in school.

That being said, the educator can certainly play a role in influencing the first two factors. It might not be possible to change a student's situation, but making class more enjoyable could spark interest and push initiative so that the student begins performing better. While not necessarily "required" of all teachers, there's a lot to be said for a teacher who lets the student know he/she is always trying and always there for him. Educators can suggest extra practice, different approaches, and study techniques. Ultimately, though, change will be dictated by the student.

arrellbelle | Student

Some students learn more than other students depending on what amount of intelligence they are at. Some students are just naturally gifted, other students might have to work a little harder. Some students also have different learning styles and the way you teach probably matches up with their styles of learning. As an educator, it is best that you try different teaching techniques that help those who fall under: auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learners.

kc4u | Student

Let me begin with a similar question: why do some teachers teach better than other teachers? There are many reasons and it is very difficult to resolve. The question under scrutiny is also very difficult to answer.

We may consider some related questions:

1) Do all the students in a group come from a similar background? Do all of them enjoy the same quality/level of parental/familial support?

2) Is the group of learners a small or a large group?

3) Do all the students get equal attention from the educator?   The question is crucial if it is not a small group.

4) Do all the students maintain a reasonably & equally good standard of health(inclusive of mental health)?

Even if we can satisfactorily handle these questions, we may not ensure equality at the level of learning. The whole process of teaching & learning is so complex & multi-faceted that a uniformly satisfying standard is difficult to achieve.