What would a good student do?

I’ve been working on this entry for a while. I often bring it up in Lead Graffiti’s workshops, and it would be great if I could get students to read it before they came.

When I was teaching creative thinking in the Visual Communications Group at the University of Delaware, I would often raise the question “What would a good student do? Right hereRight now?” The idea was to turn a simple opportunity into a miracle.

Most educational programs do a reasonable job of exposing their students to educational opportunities and options, but the question is often, "What does the student do with that opportunity?" Some teachers probably give better assignments than others. Some schools have more or better field trips & speakers. And they all have libraries. Everyone has access to almost every website, blog, tweet and photograph on the planet. Another good question is, "Why aren't all students good?"

You need to think about the other tens of thousands of students graduating from design schools this year. Imagine the best places in the country to work where you can do the best work and where that work will make you known to people who are influential to the industry in which you want to work. Do an online search for "best design schools." "Best creative writing schools." While I don't necessarily trust those lists, your school probably isn't listed. 

Imagine you are standing at Lead Graffiti with only good students from only good schools. What can you do to keep from being the worst student there? Likely you won't jump to the top in one workshop, but couple this Lead Graffiti experience (which few if any of those exceptional students have had) with your next assignment, with your next question, with your next follow-up question, and you can close, and perhaps, even cross, the gap.

We’ve had some 1500 students over the past 10 or so years who have interacted with Lead Graffiti through workshops, tours & shorternships. Sometimes through their classes, professors drag their students through the experience, and at other times it is an opportunity that the student has scheduled and paid for on their own.

We at Lead Graffiti think that our workshop experiences have value, but we’d like for them to have 5 times that value. We give a studio tour. We show some of what we think is our best relevant work and we show work from other letterpress shops we admire. But to find a way to take the experience up a few notches we need help and about the only place we can get that help is from the student.

I’m writing this with the notion that you’ll find yourself sitting in a letterpress workshop in Lead Graffiti. This is a different place than you’ve probably ever been, organized in a way you couldn’t possibly understand if you had a week, working in a technology (or maybe a non-technology) and a process you don’t know, probably using a measurement system you might barely understand, and you are asked to do a creative project without sketches. You cannot possibly know what to do. Now what?

Just ask yourself the question, “What would a good student do?” "Here." “Right now.”

And then ask yourself that question another 150 times that day.

I, for one, do not believe there are no bad questions. There are a gazillion terrible questions. They are the ones that don’t move you anywhere. “Do you like working with letterpress?” Duh. “What is it about letterpress that is valuable to your creative existence?” may get the conversation to a place you need.

You need to find the time and the energy and the nerve to ask a dozen good questions over the day. 10 of you will generate 120 good questions. Some will have good answers. And it is a good idea to ask them, so the other students hear those answers. And for them to ask good questions so you can listen to those answers. It needs to be a question that a good student from a good competing school would ask. One that moves your work forward and not just sideways. It needs to be a question that gets the answers to some other issues and also sets up for even better questions. Sometimes a good student will stand close to make sure they hear the questions. And the answers.

What would a good student do? Right hereRight now?”

Take a look at our online portfolio and try to find a couple of pieces or words we've chosen from all that we’ve done that interests you. A good place to look at our work is from our store which compacts groups of projects together.

Bring up a favorite when we are showing work. If we don’t show it, maybe you can ask to see it. “How did you get the work?” "What did we learn." “What's another project that was improved because of it?” “What is it about that piece that would make you want it in your portfolio?” "What is a good question you would ask about that project?"

Lunch is a good time to ask a good question, when things are calmer, and everyone is within hearing range.

An exciting thing about asking yourself “What would a good student do?” is that it doesn’t take any more time to do it than not to do it.