I have a challenging student in my intro course this semester. In twenty-five years of teaching, I’ve never had a student quite like this one. He appears bright. The first week, he spoke up regularly in class. Since then he has become increasingly beligerent.
On the first day of class, I asked the students to define economics in their own words. I wrote a sample of definitions on the board and grouped them by themes. Next I proposed examples that the group agreed were relevant to economics but that were inconsistent with a given definition. For example, to challenge the definition of economics as the study of money, I suggested Robinson Crusoe. Economics was clearly relevant to his situation, despite the lack of any money. My purpose here was to expose to students their mistaken views of what the discipline was about. The recent literature on cognition suggestions that failure to refute mistaken preconceptions limits transfer of learning.
Last week, I offered my definition of ‘theory’ to which the student interjected “Well, you’ve spent the last week trashing our ideas; it seems only fair that we should be allowed to criticize yours!” While thinking that he seemed to be overreacting, I told him that I welcomed criticism.
Yesterday as always, I began class by asking for any questions. The student stood up and said, “I want to tell you that I’m very disappointed in this course so far. It’s been over two weeks, and I feel like I haven’t learned anything.” The class seemed shocked, and I replied that I was sorry to hear that, but that there was much to come in the course. At that point, another student stood up and said, “I took Greenlaw’s micro course last Spring, and I found it very interesting.” Yet another stood up and said, “I think this course is very interesting, too.” I moved the discussion back to the topic of the day, but couldn’t help continuing to think about the student and his comments.
Is it possible that he’s learned nothing from the readings or the class discussion? If so, I think I should suggest additional readings to push his learning further. Or is it perhaps that he’s one of those students who wants everything to be tested spelled out explicitly so he knows what to memorize for the exams? I will know more after the first assignment at the end of the week.
Even if he hasn’t learned anything, what do I make of his public challenges? What does he think he’s trying to accomplish that he couldn’t achieve with a private conversation or email? The rest of the class seems to think he’s an idiot.
I plan to talk to him privately and ask these questions. Can you suggest anything that might shed light on this situation beforehand?