What do you know about your students?

Classroom Journal

This post is a bit of a divergence from what you might typically read from me or from ChemEdX. It is not specifically about teaching chemistry but it is something I think we can all relate to. This past fall I was able to attend the Ohio School Improvement Institute through High Schools that Work. I attended a session called “Re-energizing ourselves and our teaching” with Mike Anderson, an ASCD author.

As teachers, we all know that our job extends far beyond the content we are required to deliver. We are educators, mentors, coaches, parents and more. It is important for us to find ways to wear all of these hats without burning out. I learned many great strategies that certainly helped re-energize me as a teacher but there was one strategy in particular that I could not get out of my head.

Mike Anderson challenged us to number a sheet of paper with the number of students in each of our classes and then try to write down the first and last name of every student in the class from memory. He instructed us to draw a line between the names we remembered and the few that we had to look up. He then extended the challenge to write down one fact that has nothing to do with the classes we teach for as many students as possible. Finally, he asked us to put a checkmark next to the fact if we had had a conversation with that student about the specific topic.

Over winter break, I finally sat down to complete this challenge. I made a page in my bullet journal (figure 1) for each of my five classes and attempted to list all 119 of my students and all the things I know about them from memory. I learned a lot about how I interact with my students along the way.


Figure 1 - My Student Interaction Journal

Before I share my reflections, I want to give you a little background on my schedule. I teach 2 sections of co-taught and 1 section of general physical science for freshmen, 1 section of honors chemistry and 1 section of med-tech chemistry for students in the STNA CTE program (our career tech program is in-house so the students take a lot of classes as a cohort. This is also my first year teaching freshmen which has been a learning experience for an entirely different post!
I was able to remember 107 of my 119 students. What was more interesting than that number was the distribution of who I remembered from each class. I remembered every student from my two smallest classes (honors chemistry and med-tech chemistry). I also see these students 50% more every week because they have a lab period every other day. No surprise there. What was most interesting was among my 3 physical science classes, I remembered the highest percentage students from my largest class. I also knew the most about my students in this class and had the most non-physical science conversations in this class. This is also my class that poses the most behavioral challenges.

That reflection made me feel a couple things.

  1. I am glad that the basis of my classroom management is building personal relationships with students. I know that students will work harder if they believe that I am looking out for them and I have their best interests at heart.
  2. I am concerned that I overlook personal relationships with my “good” students because I can focus more on teaching and less on behavior management in those classes. It is wonderful to get through lessons as planned and cover all of my standards, but I do not want to miss out on the opportunity to know my students.

My other take away from this activity was that I do not know as much about my students as I thought I did. Honestly, that was discouraging at first. I later realized that learning one fact and having one personal conversation with every student is an achievable goal. As teachers we set the bar high. We want to make a difference for every student. We want to know and have a personal connection with every student. That goal is neither measureable or achievable. That was really the whole point of the presentation I attended. As teachers we need to set realistic goals that strike a balance between the difference we want to make and the fact that we are humans.

My goal for the second half of this school year is to write a fact and a checkmark next to every student’s name. I know that there will be some students who I could fill a page with facts for and some students that I only know one thing about. At the end of the school year, I will know that I connected at least once with every one of my students.

Is this something you would try? What do you do to connect with your students?

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Comments 3

Eric Sullenberger | Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:36

I had a similar assignment for a graduate class I took a few years ago.  The assigned textbook problem told us to write down the names of all of the students in a class and to describe them in one sentence and then to write down one question unique question for each student that we felt would best help us to get to know them better.  After doing the assignment, I took it one step further, by printing out what I had written about them and giving each student my statement and my question.  I then gave them the option to do an online survey (all did) that prompted them to reflect on my description of them, answer the question, ask their own question of themselves, answer it, and then turn the tables and both describe me and ask a question of me.  Quite a few of my quirks were highlighted when they did this and I took the time to answer each of their questions one by one which led to good conversations both via e-mail and in class.  Furthermore, giving them the chance to respond to my statement about them led two students to think I had mischaracterize them and led to great conversations- one was a misunderstanding [although unfortunately I think her feelings remained hurt] and the other helped the student to make several positive changes in her life.  In fact those changes were significant enough that she wrote about it for a college application essay and shared the essay with me later- that essay is one of my most treasured posessions as a teacher.  I have to admit, that as positive as it was, it was time consuming enough that I haven't done it again since, but it really has impacted the way I view my interactions with students and the way I view myself.  It is easy to get bogged down by content, but in the end it is the whole person we are helping to grow.

Lauren Stewart's picture
Lauren Stewart | Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:59

I love the idea of writing down one question for each student to get to know them better! I might have to add a column to my exercise...

Carrie Alexander's picture
Carrie Alexander | Thu, 03/08/2018 - 09:03

I mentor new teachers at my high school and I love this idea to help them see how well they are doing with student relationships.