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Always learning

What have you learned about your students so far this school year? What else do you need to know?

What have you learned about the students sitting in your classroom?

The first few weeks of school can sometimes be a blur of new faces, names, schedules. New information whirls around you in the form of emails, announcements, meetings, and trainings. It’s hard to keep up with it all. But the beginning of the year is prime time to learn about the most important part of your job – your students.


One of my first goals when I was in the classroom was learning my students’ names in the first couple days of school. Using student names can be powerful. It shows them you see them and know who they are. Years later, when I can still call them by name, they give me a smile that says “oh, wow, she remembers me.” There is something about someone caring enough to know your name and use it. But names are only the beginning of what we can learn about our students early in the year.

Where they come from

Often at the beginning of the year, I would have my students write me a letter. Sure, I could start assessing their writing, but it was more than that. I asked them to tell me what I needed to know about them in order to teach them. I wanted to know where they were coming from. Did they have to babysit younger siblings every day after school making completing homework difficult? Do they have to work? Are there things going on in their lives that make coming to school difficult? Do they not enjoy group work and would rather work alone? The prompt was very open ended, but I had students share many answers that would have answered the above questions.

I also always tried to do activities where I could learn about the students, and they could learn about each other and me. I would play two truths and lie with them. The students would have to guess what was true about me and what wasn’t. Then they would do the same activity with each other. It was great brainstorming for narrative writing, but it also helped everyone learn a little bit more about each other. And it’s fun!

What they know

Another main priority was trying to find out what my students already knew. Past high stakes test performance can only get you so far. I would use pre-tests to get a basic gauge of what my students knew. I would also always have them do a writing assignment that first week of school. So, for example, I could use the narrative that followed the two truths and a lie game to figure out where my students were in terms of writing ability. These pre-assessments gave me a good idea where I needed to start to get my students where they needed to go. Pre-assessment makes your instruction that much more impactful.

What they like and dislike

What type of books do they like to read? What do they like to talk about? Knowing these things informs what materials you chose for your class. Is one class into video games? Is another concerned about human rights? You can use reading surveys or interest surveys early in the year to help to identify engaging articles, stories, and writing or project prompts. Getting students engaged can be a challenge, but the more you know about their likes and dislikes, the easier it will be.

As you survive the blur of these first few weeks, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned about your students. What else do you need to know? Where do you need to do more digging? Learn about what makes your students tick. The time you take now will make the rest of the year that much more meaningful and successful. Happy learning!

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