So, the dust has settled on the first few weeks of school and by now you’re probably in the process of collating results from diagnostic testing of some form, whether it be reading levels, PAT or other literacy and numeracy testing, cognitive ability tests, the list goes on. You might be directly involved in analysing the numerical data or you may have been on the receiving end at a staff meeting about it. However, what I want to talk about in this post is how to know your learner beyond the numbers.
If a kid can’t learn the way we’re teaching them, how about teaching them the way they learn? This is one of my all-time favourite education quotes. Not sure who said it, but there was a Michael J Fox meme going around… One of my other favourites is that we teach students, not subjects. Yet, somehow, this tends to get lost at the start of the school year, as we plan our units, decorate our classrooms and write our assessments. We get carried away with what we are teaching and sometimes forget about who we are teaching. Despite being inundated with information and data about our learners, we often don’t take the time to know our learners. Sometimes it feels like we are just too busy, but I believe that now is the time to get to know our learners on a deeper level, so that we can reach all of our students.
So, here are just some techniques that I have used to know my learners.
Observe and record. In your class, in someone else’s class, in the playground, on the sports field. Don’t just watch though, be deliberate about it and take notes, in whatever form works for you. This makes it easier to come back at later dates with new observations to get a longitudinal picture and reflect on growth.
Exit cards, exit cards, exit cards. I love exit cards! They are a very, very low preparation tool that can tell you so much. They can be used in any situation in which you wish to find out what is in your learner’s head. Here are a few exit card questions that will help you know your learner. In today’s lesson:
- What did you learn about yourself?
- What was the most challenging part? Why?
- What did you like doing? Why?
- What did you dislike doing? Why?
- What would you have done differently if you were the teacher?
- How would you explain the lesson to someone who was having difficulty understanding?
- How would you teach the lesson to someone who was absent?
Chalk Talk Protocol to promote open discussion among ALL your learners. This can be real or virtual. Check out this link for ideas on how to do this on paper. Padlet and the collaboration space in class notebooks in OneNote are great for this style of discussion online, which I have found excellent in eliciting discussion out of the normally quiet students.
Learner profiles. Ask students to take some surveys (there are plenty online) about their multiple intelligences, processing preference and learning styles, but make sure that they also reflect on their results. Our learners are people and they are multi-dimensional. Here is a learner profile that I have used, which has been a great conversation starter with my students.
Do you have more ideas about how to know your learner on a deeper level than numbers and statistics? Please share in the comments below. These ideas are from my secondary teaching experience, so I would love to hear from alternative perspectives.