One of the first things we do every year is get to know our students. Teachers who connect with their students on a personal level are better able to understand their motivations and desires as well as tailor instruction to meet their interests and needs.
According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards;
“Accomplished teachers draw on their knowledge of child development and their relationships with students to understand their students’ abilities, interests, aspirations, and values.”
One of the best resources I’ve ever found for better understanding the characteristics of fifth graders is Chip Wood’s Yardsticks. This book details childhood development age by age and describes cognitive and social-emotional growth as well as the types of instruction and issues that student’s at each age benefit from and enjoy. It’s a must have book for any teacher or parent. I re-read the chapters on my age group every year. Sometimes more than once a year.
In order to get to know my students I administer a variety of surveys every year. These surveys help me to form a picture of who my students are, what they enjoy, any ideas they have about themselves as learners, and what their perceptions are of certain subjects. Here is a summary of the types of surveys I give and what I ask.
- Parent Survey: This is filled out by parents on-line or by hand. I ask parents to tell me about what their child enjoys, how they learn at home, what activities they will participate in this year, what they family likes to do together, what their child’s reading habits are, and to explain what they are looking forward to, what they would like more information on, and what concerns they might have going into the school year.
- Personal Survey: Connecting with students is an essential part of teaching. I like to know what they are interested in and what they do with their time outside of schools. These interests give us things to bond over and can often be the key to unlocking a student’s potential in the classroom. I ask general questions about their likes and dislikes, what they are interested, what they do after school and on the weekends, the most interesting and boring vacations or places they’ve visited, any special family traditions, and even their favorite movies and television shows.
- Reading Survey: I give this in order to determine student attitude and reading habits. I ask question like: What are your favorite books and series? What genre of books do you prefer to read? What genre of books would you like to try? How much reading do you do at home? Who is your favorite author? How many books do you have at home? What topics do you like to read about? These questions give me a great perspective on who my students are as readers.
- Writing Survey: The writing survey is similar to the reading survey. I ask questions such as: What do you like to write about? What is the best piece you’ve ever written? What do you think you need to work on as a writer? Do you see yourself as a writer? Who in the class do you think gives good advice in writing? How do you come up with ideas for writing? What do you do when you can’t think of something to write?
- Math Survey: Last year my wonderful teaching partner and I decided to give a math survey. We asked questions like: What things do you enjoy doing during math class? What are you really good at in math? What do you do when you come to a hard problem? What would you like help with this year?
In addition to these surveys I also like to have students take some learning inventories to find out more about their learning styles. This article from Education World has links to a variety of different inventories you can give to students in order to learn more about their learning styles.
Of course the best way to build rapport with students is to create opportunities to talk with them. Every student wants to know that you care and are interested in them, so taking the time to chat can go a long way in building those strong relationships that will sustain you through a year of challenging and rewarding learning.