Every starts with a new, fresh batch of kids that you want to get to know. Teachers need to know their students for several reasons. You need to understand them and their quirks because you’re going to spend the next ten months in close quarters trying to guide this child through all kinds of experiences. You need to understand who your students really are.
You need to know who they are so you can plan to teach them. It’s just that simple.
Why Do You Need to Know Your Students?
Knowing about your students’ strengths and weaknesses will make your planning for them more effective. You will be able to proactively target their needs which will make any efforts to differentiate for them much easier to predict.
Connecting with your students on a personal level will help with your classroom management. If your students think and know you care about them and genuinely like them, they will work harder for you. They will try their best to follow your rules (even if they are little turkeys for other people).
When you have a personal connection with your students they will trust you to teach them. They will trust you to push them with their learning and they will be willing to taking learning risks because they know you’ll be there to support them.
What Do You Need to Know or Learn About Your Students?
Maybe you don’t know anything about the students who’ve just come into your room. Maybe you know a few of them or a lot of them. Or maybe you think you know some of them.
Your students might be coming to you with some preconceptions about the type of teacher you are. They might have an older sibling in your class or they might have seen you on the playground disciplining other children. You don’t know what they know or think about you.
And you might already have some ideas of the type of student they are, but we challenge you to let all of the things you might have heard about a child and get to know them yourself.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve been given “that child” and told about all the troubles we were going to have only to discover that wasn’t quite the truth (or any part of the truth).
Don’t allow misconceptions or perceptions from other teachers about a student being your guiding force. On the other hand, the previous teacher can be a valuable resource to help you look at strategies that have or have not worked with the student. Focus on strategies instead of personalities.
What specific things should you find out about your students?
- background knowledge on topics or interests in topics
- personal experiences or situations
- interests or hobbies
- challenges or disabilities
- skills or abilities or strengths
- social skill strengths or weaknesses
These factors contribute to how well your students will be able to interact with the information you represent. Knowing a student’s interests can help you connect personally. Or, you can create a lesson that incorporates an interest.
Knowing a student is challenged by reading can help you prepare texts in advance for them or design strategies that will help you support them. Having this information before you start planning can help your planning be far more effective because you already know the barriers that might be standing in the way of your students learning the information you teach or expressing what they have learned to you.
How Do You Get to Know Your Students?
One of our favourite ways to get to know our students is to invite them to come for a walk during supervision outside. We have a huge field where teachers walk around and watch for students. During this time we like to invite one student to come walk and talk. And then we just listen. It’s a great way to give students some one on one time and attention (because most of the students are so well behaved, we rarely have to stop to help out on the field).
Surveys or Questionnaires: Give your students a survey you create with Google Forms or Survey Monkey. Simple questionnaires (even with just one question) can be a great activity to come in after a break. It’s can be calming. We have all kinds of questions in our Learner Profiles package. It can help you get started with figuring out your new class.
Maybe you want to do learner profiles and don’t know where to start. There are many different interest surveys and questionnaires all over the place. If you don’t want to search the web, but still want to try, take a look at our Learner Profiles. We designed these for the students in our class based on thousands of other surveys we’d looked at and tried.
Question of the Day: Choose one question and have all your students answer it as they come in the door or leave for the day. Super simple and effective. You can make the questions silly or serious, but to keep them quick we keep them simple at the door or leave the question up so they can think about it before we ask it at the door.
Chat It Up!: Take a moment throughout your day to connect with your students. This can be while you’re waiting in a line, coming in from a break, during transitions or when a group finishes up with you, keep one back to have a conversation before sending them back.
Watch Them: While your students are working, observe them during class and during unstructured breaks (like recess). How do they work? Are they focused? Do they appear to struggle? Which tasks cause anxiety? Just choosing to watch how a student works (or doesn’t work) can be very telling.
Trial and Error: Giving your students different tasks specifically to see how they respond can be very helpful. Do they do better with oral instructions or written instructions. How many steps are too many? As you work with students you can learn the quirks about this specific class and if you keep track of these things, planning will become easier because you’ll already know what problems might come up.
Parents, Guardians and Adults: We often send home a very simple letter to our parents (guardians and adults at home) asking for parental input about their child. ALL the children, not just the ones with special behaviour or programming requirements. Parents have a unique perspective and their input can help you when you are first getting to know them. It also gives you insight into the parental/child relationship.
Their Past Life: Former teachers can be helpful, but you need strategies, not gossip. Instead of saying, tell me about little Johnny. Say, what strategies did you use to help Johnny write independently? Keeping it specific will help keep the opinions to a minimum. Before approaching past teachers, ask the child which classes were the most successful and start there if possible.
The Student File: We usually avoid the file until we have our own opinions about what might be going on with the student. This is to keep ourselves unbiased as we get to know them. Professional assessments (educational, medical, cognitive or psycho-educational assessments) are a great way to get more insight into how the students thinks and learns and it might be a way to gather strategies to help the child.
There’s a Science to Knowing Your Students
Knowing your students is more than knowing if they like butterflies or video games. Each area of the brain interacts differently with information. As a teacher, this information is valuable to you.
A student might know HOW to add (recognition), but if you ask the same student to write out their own question, they might not be able to line up the place values correctly (strategic) and then he gets the addition question incorrect because the numbers are in the wrong place.
If you know where students will have learning barriers, you can proactively plan to reduce or eliminate those barriers. Here are some possible examples. Think about how you might handle these in your classroom.
By knowing who your learners are, you can help (maybe prevent) many learning barriers. Knowing about the potential problems can help you anticipate challenges and provide better support for all your students.
This will make differentiating for your students easier because you’ll be able to group together similar needs. Our Learner Profiles help you group students with common strategies together.
Looking for Some Professional Reading?
Many differentiated instruction books come with surveys and questionnaries included. These books are a little older, but they still have lots of quality information. We’re in the process of reading a few more to add to our list, so be sure to check back.
Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age by David H. Rose, Anne Meyer, Nicole Strangman and Gabrielle Rappolt
Teaching to Diversity by Jennifer Katz.
The one biggest reason you should get to know your students is to show them you care about them. You are going to spend a whole year with this people and unfortunately for some children, you are the most positive and influential person in their lives. Make sure they know how much you want them to be in your classroom.
How to do you get to know your students? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to add your ideas to our list!