Education, Life Lessons

Getting To Know Your Students

Just the other day I read an article from Corkboard Connections, “What Makes A Parent Love A Teacher.”  You can read it here, and I highly recommend you do! The gist is that, over the years, the teachers that stand out and make a lasting impression are the teachers that took the time to develop meaningful relationships with their students — they got to know them as more than just another kid in the class.

In general, I feel like I do a pretty good job of this.  My students and I talk about what they did over the weekend, how the play is going, or whether they won their game or not.  I generally go to at least one game for each sport, and for the sports I like, I often go to more. (I have to admit, two soccer games a year is enough for me…) I attend the school plays and other special events — (Monster Bingo? Uh yah!).  All in all, I think I do a decent job.

But after reading this article, I decided I wanted to do better. For most students, I know which parents are together and which ones are divorced, I know they have a brother in 2A or a sister in 8B.  But do they have siblings outside of our school? What days do they spend with mom, which days do they spend with dad? Does mom work? Do they have step-parents or step-siblings? What do they want to be when they grow up? What is their hands-down, favorite science topic? What do they want to be when they grow up? What do they want to accomplish this year? I realized that for many students, I don’t know these things, and I figured out that these are the things I want to know about them.  I realized that the “beginning-of-year survey” I gave to…

1) get contact information for parents, and

2) get to know the kids

… didn’t have the kind of information I now felt was important.

So yesterday, I had the kids fill out a new form.

Actually, it wasn’t a form at all. It was a piece of loose-leaf, and they answered seven questions that I had written on the board.

1. Name

2. Best Way To Learn

3. Favorite Subject

4. Favorite Science Topic

5. Clubs, Hobbies, Sports & Activities

6. Family (Who lives with you? Brothers? Sisters? Ages/Grades? Pets?)

7. Goals (For this year? What do you want to be when you grow up?)

While at some point or another, students have told me some of these things, or some of the elements were on the beginning-of-year survey, I never thought about organizing the data I collected.  In the article, the author linked to a resource from Cult of Pedagogy, called the “Deep Data At A Glance chart.”  I checked hers out, but I ultimately decided to make my own.  First, I didn’t like it being a Word document, because I find that charts get all funky on Word sometimes.  Second, I wasn’t happy with those categories, so I had to type new ones up anyway.  Third, I like things to have pretty font, so I used some I had downloaded to my own computer.  I put all of this into an Excel chart and then typed up my student responses.

Side Note: My students were really excited to answer these questions, and I was surprised at the time and consideration they put into it.  Some were confused why we were doing this in the middle of the year — I simply told them I wanted to know these things.  They seemed happy.  I’m hoping to be able to incorporate some of what I have learned into future conversations and what not.  I’m also glad I came across this before parent-teacher conferences next week!!

So while I created my own chart, I was SO PLEASED with the idea, and I totally give credit to that article and Cult of Pedagogy. It’s not like it was a complicated idea, but for some reason, it never occurred to me — which is a little surprising because I really like data. Collecting it, organizing it, using it, tracking how it changes, etc. Anyway, it was a great idea, and I am glad it was shared with me!

I created both an Excel and editable PDF of my data sheet. You can access it for FREE at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  Simply click EXCEL if you’d like the Excel version or PDF if you’d like the PDF version. The Excel won’t have the pretty font, but the PDF will.

All in all, I hope you take the time to read that article — it’s a good reminder.  Yes, these are things we all try to do, but in the craziness of the day, the month, the year, it’s all too easy for these things to get shuffled to the side.  I’m glad I was reminded to continue to take the time to really know these awesome kids:


Middle School

Classroom Set Up 02: DIY Projects


Since school is starting in literally two days, I figured I should finish posting about my classroom setup.  I still have a few things to do, but here are some of the projects I completed this summer (in no particular order):

1. Chalkboard Painted Desk:  With the permission of my principal, I painted the front and two sides of my desk with chalkboard paint.  Now, both the students and I can use the space for art and drawing, posting notes, etc.

First, I sanded down the painted metal desk, just enough to rough it up a bit.  Then, I applied two coats of chalkboard paint – I used the kind from the can, NOT the spray kind.



2. Extra Storage:  Who doesn’t need a little extra space?  I found this little island in my neighbor’s yard, heading to the dump.  It was an ugly beige color, so I painted it blue to brighten it up.  I then painted little brown dots along the drawers to add a little character.



3. Memory Wall:  When I taught in North Carolina last year, I had access to a great book called Teaching for Excellence with the PEAK Team.  I recommend it for all teachers working with kids in grades 4 and up. There are some AWESOME instructional ideas, as well as information on classroom management, organization/setup, parent contact, etc.  One of the ideas I found in the book was the Memory Wall.  Basically, throughout the year, you take pictures of student activities, projects, special days, etc.  Students can also bring in their own photos as well.  At the end of the year, you can take all the pictures and create a scrapbook or album.  It’s a neat relationship-building/community-building center in the room.

I took pages of scrapbook and attached them to the chalkboard to create the quilted look.  Then, I added border to separate it from the rest of the board.



4. Comfy Cozy Reading Center: I created a corner of the room for students to get comfortable and read.  The fifth and sixth grade teachers at my school have built a Silent Sustained Reading time into the schedule at the end of the day, and I am implementing a Drop Everything And Read time in the morning for my homeroom as well, so I think students will definitely enjoy this corner.  If behavior becomes an issue, I may use the pillows and beanbags as an incentive for good behavior — for example, they may be able to “buy” corner time with their ClassDojo points.  I am going to try keeping it open for now though.

I also added mini lights and cute lamps to the area to soften it up.  Right now, my room gets a TON of sunlight, but I figure those soft lights may be nice in the winter when everything is cold and gray!



5. Supply Station:  I painted a crate I purchased at the craft store blue and set it up as a Student Supply Station.  Students are welcome to use any of the supplies in the box, provided they return them.  I will have one student responsible for monitoring the box in each class, making sure all supplies are returned before dismissal.  I will also have a student sharpen the pencils in the box each day (the regular ones, not necessarily the colored ones), so that students who need a pencil do not need to interrupt class with the loud sharpener.



6. Group Choosy Thingamabobs:  I “stole” this idea from a professor I took Content Literacy with, but I spruced it up Pinterest-style with some cute paints.  Basically, each corner of the popsicle stick has either a letter, number, symbol or color.  The four options divide the students into different number groups — there are four shapes/symbols, eight numbers, five letters, and six colors.  Students will draw a popsicle stick, but they may not know in which way you plan to divide them.  This prevents the, “Oh, let me switch with you so I can be in So-and-So’s group,” swapping that happens in all middle and high school classrooms (maybe even elementary — not really my area of expertise!).  It also makes sure to randomize grouping, as counting off in assigned seats will not give you much variety after a while.


7. Student Choosy Thingamabobs:  I don’t remember where I heard of this idea, but I think it’s a great one too.  Instead of doing the, “Can anyone tell me…?”  and hearing from the same four kids every time, choosing popsicle sticks with student names randomizes the selection and also sends the message that all students need to be prepared to participate at all times.

Of course, I like to give students the opportunity to be successful before putting them on the spot, so I like to use Think-Pair-Share or similar discuss-with-your-neighbor type activities before I actually call on anyone.  Another strategy I really liked that I learned in North Carolina was, “What did you hear in your discussions?”  It gives kids an “out” — instead of asking them to share only their own thoughts (which can be really intimidating for some kids), students can share ideas under the guise of “perhaps someone else said it.”  Of course, sometimes they may share things someone else actually said as well – and that is great too! At least you know they were listening to each other!


8. Clipboards:  All teachers have clipboards around – you never know when a student might need to take something in the hallway, outside, or just at centers around the room.  I spruced mine up with some scrapbook paper and mod podge!  I have about eight in all now, although only a few are shown here.  I found simple brown ones at Walmart for $0.50, so it wasn’t a lot of money out of my pocket and the result is super cute!


9. Dry Erase Boards:  Kids love dry erase boards, and it’s a good way to check for understanding in the class at large.  Pose a question, students write their answer and hold it up on your command. Bingo, you can see who got it right, who got it wrong, the overall understanding of the class, etc. without actually putting anyone on the spot.  Instead of costing me a fortune buying $10+ boards from Target or Office Max, I went to Lowes and bought a $13  sheet of “white panel board” in the molding section.  Then, I had them cut it into 12″ x 18″ rectangles and voila! Dry erase boards.

Since taking this picture, I have covered the edges with cute washi tape to create a bordered, finished look.


10. Tabletop Bookshelf:  I used the top half of a cheap fiberboard bookshelf I picked up at a garage sale to create a tabletop science center display case.  I want my students to become familiar with scientific tools, so I am displaying them 24/7 to peak student curiosity! I have labeled the various instruments, so that students can connect the proper name with the actual tool.