Getting to know my students has always involved more than a surface level of understanding. I like to spend some time at the start of the year to get to know them, and potentially help them get to know their classmates a little better. I try and focus on gaining an understanding of their learning styles, thoughts and feelings.
Some of the benefits of doing this include:
- being able to tailor teaching to individual needs and interests
- providing an opportunity for less confident students to express themselves
- improving student outcomes
Here are 5 questions I like to ask to get to know my students in a more meaningful way.
What’s your greatest strength?
Years ago, I taught a student who suffered from low self esteem. This lack of self belief was reflected in his learning. He would act out, distract others and struggled academically. I encouraged him to identify his strengths, which included being an excellent artist. I was then able to tailor my teaching to suit his needs, and he began engaging with learning in a meaningful way.
By encouraging students to identify their best qualities, we are validating their uniqueness. This serves to:
- enhance their motivation and self confidence
- improve their achievements
- increase student-teacher rapport
What’s your favorite activity to do outside of class?
Learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It's vital that we acknowledge and celebrate students’ lives beyond the classroom.
By asking this question, we're highlighting to our students that we care about their experiences outside the context of school. When students feel that we are invested in their learning, they are more likely to respond positively to our feedback.
Putting learning into practice ‘in the real world’ helps to cement understanding and enhances personal and social development. This process involves observing, applying, reflecting, and sharing learning experiences.
There are countless examples for encouraging students to use a hobby to support their learning.
For instance, if a students’ favorite activity involves music, we can encourage them to write a song about their learning.
Explain what you do when you do not understand a skill or concept you are learning?
It’s helpful for students to develop and use strategies for overcoming learning challenges.
Asking this question provides insight into the students’ approach to learning.
It’s a good opportunity to highlight that their learning can be greatly improved by implementing these. As a teacher, you can support your student in identifying relevant approaches.
You might recommend that students use active learning strategies to help in understanding a challenging concept.
Once you're aware of student strategies, you can encourage them to use these when they are struggling with new concepts and skills.
Do you have a good working environment at home?
As much of learning takes place outside of the classroom, it’s important that students have a supportive environment at home.
Brainstorming what makes a ‘good working environment’ helps to identify elements that can influence learning at home. These may include:
- a quiet space dedicated to learning
- access to required materials
- supportive furniture
- reliable internet access
If students don’t have access to suitable learning conditions, you may be able to direct them to support services.
Gaining insight into their home challenges helps to foster our compassion. As a result, we adjust our teaching process to suit individual student needs.
What help do you need to achieve your learning goals?
As teachers, we do best when we know how we can support our students and their learning.
One of the best ways to achieve this is when students identify the help we can give them.
Much has been written about individual learning needs. Posing this question provides invaluable insight into what each student needs. It helps us to target our teaching in an impactful way to support their outcomes.
Getting to know our students is one of the most effective ways to support their learning. As teachers, we are best placed to ask these important questions and tailor our teaching accordingly.
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