Getting to Know One Student at a Time

A MiddleWeb Blog

I have been worried about the students in my largest class (which has 28 students). Some days I don’t get to talk with them very much one on one. I feel like I overlook certain students in that class because I’m so busy doing all the things that I have to do.

In the midst of thinking about this, I had a department meeting scheduled for later in the day. I was looking forward to seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile and finding out how they were doing. When I got to the meeting, I made a point of talking with them, and it was really nice just catching up.

Then I started thinking what if I applied that same approach to my students, especially the students in my largest class. What if I picked one student every day and made a point to speak with them and ask them something that I was really interested in finding out about them.

So I made it my goal to pick one student every day from that class for the next month (20 school days) and let them be the person I was looking forward to seeing.

My plan was to take a minute to chat – no agenda – just like you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. To select a student for each day, I would draw their name randomly from my set of classroom popsicle sticks.

Randomly selecting students made me accountable and kept me from overlooking anyone. (I could have just gone through the students alphabetically, but I enjoyed picking the student’s name from my popsicle sticks. It added to the fun for me.)

After I drew their name, I thought about what I would like to ask them or talk with them about.  I made it a point to not ask anything too personal or to bring up missed assignments. I also didn’t talk about anything math related. We usually ended up talking about their part-time jobs, or their siblings, or sports.

At the end of the day I wrote the student’s name and the gist of our conversation on my calendar to help me keep track.

 What I Learned

This has made me very aware that I have a habit of talking to some students more than others. I was surprised; it certainly wasn’t intentional.

After drawing one student’s name, I realized that I had not had a conversation that was not related to math with this student since the beginning of the year. This student does well in class, is quiet, and sits in the back in the room, and I’d overlooked them.

If I want my students to feel welcome and safe in my classroom, I need to take the time to talk with each and every one of them. And that takes some real organization.

I have also learned that it takes time to talk with your students! I was thinking that I could talk to 20 students in 20 days. Nope! In a month’s time I managed to talk with eight students! Why so few? One week was the students’ Fall Break. Then there were the days we didn’t meet due to school programs. And one day class was interrupted for state testing.

There were also some days when I couldn’t spare a single moment to talk one-on-one about anything other than math.

Some of the Benefits

Even though I was only able to reach eight students, it has made a difference. A couple of the students who didn’t come up to me regularly before now seem more relaxed stopping for a quick chat. One student let me know that they needed some extra help after school, and I honestly am not sure if that would have happened before.

Also, if I do have to talk with these students about a missing assignment or some other problem, hopefully they won’t think the only time I talk with them is when they are in trouble.

It’s upsetting to discover my past failure, but it’s shown me that I have been unintentionally ignoring some students while spending more time talking with others. It also helped me to see these young people as more than my math students. They are teens who have jobs and siblings, and who have a lot of other responsibilities and interests outside of school, and that is a good reminder for me.

Looking Ahead

Even though I had originally planned for this to last one month, I am going to keep going. I have already seen the benefits, and I want to make sure I reach every student in the class. At my current pace, it’s going to take a long time to reach the whole class, but I am not giving up!

How do you make sure you connect with all your students? Do you have a different strategy?

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. For the past 13 years, she's taught high school math, including Algebra IB, Algebraic Connections, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, Algebra with Finance, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. In her free time, she enjoys reading books about math education and following other teachers on Twitter.

1 Response

  1. Janice Rustico says:

    This is a great idea! Thank you.

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