Teachers learn A LOT about their students. We overhear conversations that we wish we could unhear. We see cringeworthy actions taking place in the halls. And we have interesting conversations with students who like to overshare. You may think that it is completely unnecessary in the secondary classroom to gather information about your students’ interests and learning styles in the beginning of the year.
Why should I bother? I have SO many other things to get done.
We get it. Teaching is insane and the to-do list is truly never-ending. But, information about student interests and learning styles can really help to make our teaching more impactful and relevant. I have seen really tough students open up to teachers that put in the extra effort to attend their school volleyball games or design lessons connected to student interests.
If you are struggling with a student that you begin to feel is unreachable, you might want to revisit their responses on a beginning of the year student questionnaire so that you can get some clues as to what is going on.
What information should I ask for?
The first thing that I like to inquire about has to do with student contact preferences. I have had many students that go by names other than those listed in the student information system and I want to know that right away so that I can use the “correct” name. I also like to know who the student would like me to be communicating with at home not only for negative issues, but for positive classroom behaviors. Every student has a different set of home issues and it is important that educators are as sensitive to those issues as possible by connecting with the parent/guardian to whom students feel most connected.
Activities and Interests
If my students play sports I want to know. If my students participate in afterschool activities like clubs I also want to know. Our students build strong connections with adults that share their interests. If I need some extra insight into a student’s change in behavior, I might contact a coach or mentor at the school who knows that student better than I do. Building an alliance with other adults that support your students can really help to change student behavior in your classroom.
Similarly, there are a lot of home games, club meetings, and after school activities that my students participate in. If I show some interest in supporting my students, then they are more likely to show some interest in supporting our classroom environment. Building bonds and showing support and interest can be as easy as stopping in and sitting in the stands during a home game. That little bit of extra effort can pay off tenfold.
Feelings About a Subject
Positive and negative interactions with students might not have anything to do with their current teacher. Past experiences guide our future choices and sometimes students have had difficult experiences with a content area. Learning anxiety is REAL, and it can be very damaging. The better we know what types of things trigger negative learning memories the more prepared we can be for setting up a safe environment for our learners.
How Do You Learn BEST?
Gathering some information about student learning preferences can help to guide our teaching practices. Teachers need to be flexible and make adjustments every year to reach the diverse learners in our classrooms. The best way to figure out what types of activities students enjoy is by asking them. If you notice that you have a lot of kinesthetic learners, you may need to integrate some classroom choreography and go with a TPR approach. If you have a classroom full of visual learners you can integrate videos, infographics, and doodle notes. As teachers, we need to make effort to teach the learners that we have in front of us.
If you don’t feel like inventing your own student questionnaire, we have a free one available in our TpT store – you can even edit it to suit your group of students.
Yes, we get a lot of unwanted information about our students. But, gathering USEFUL information that can help to inform our teaching practices at the beginning of the year can really help to set us up for success. Teaching is hard. Every year is different. No two classes are the same. On the other hand, knowledge is power and getting some helpful information about your students can make you their superhero. Happy teaching!