Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Know Your Students

I make a real effort to get to know what makes each of my students tick. I look at data to help me guide them with goal setting. I cherish the relationships that are fostered within my classroom/laboratory. However, a very simple stroke of genius that I was exposed to just before school started that has given me so much more and so much sooner in the year: "5 Things You Should Know About Me."


Before any teaching or learning happened in any of my classes this year, I armed every student with a pen and a blank piece of paper. I then talked to them about how I could view them as potential Excellence grades or Scholarships or... You get the idea. So did they. Then I said that I would prefer to view them as individuals with individual reasons for taking "my" subject along with their individual aspirations, both in terms of academic achievement and enjoyment or fulfillment.

"So, please write your name on the top of that piece of paper. Don't let anyone else see what you are about to write on there. I want you to share five things about yourself that you think it is important for me to know. But first, here are five things about me that I would like you to know." I shared a few things like how I am very competitive but think I'm a pretty good winner (and loser), and how I never wanted to be a teacher but feel very fortunate to have found a career that resonates with me.

I assured the students that I would not share anything they shared with me, unless it made me concerned for their safety. I gave them time to get this done and stressed that this was more important than going through Course Outlines etc. for Day One.


Of course I am not going to give any details. I am going to keep my promise! However, getting the students to hand write their "5 things" was a good way to get an early indication of anyone who might need some literacy help . I also got a better image of the true make up of my classes.

There are students whose grades suggest they would be targeting Scholarships this year, but they are more interested in other subjects so doing "my" subject purely for interest-sake. No apology, just thought that I should know. There are students who wanted me to know that they aren't the best-behaved - sorry in advance, sir!

I know of the anxieties of certain students and have already been able to focus my attention of some of them to help them more in class. Never before have I arranged lunchtime tutorials to help students so early in the year because never before have I been so explicitly aware of the anxieties of students.

Such a simple idea, but so insightful! This is something I will do every year from now on.

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