By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
Parent: Do you like your teacher?
Child: Yes, s/he likes me!
Parent: How do you know that?
Child: Because she asked me if my favorite team won this weekend!
Teachers who know their students are more likely to have students who are engaged in school and enthusiastic about learning. Maximizing student engagement and achievement begins with creating a trusting relationship with students and the first step is getting to know them. Knowing your students involves knowing their interests, learning styles, and ongoing assessments for learning. The three of these in concert together can support maximizing student engagement and achievement.
Charlotte Danielson highlights Demonstrating Knowledge of Students in Domain 1b. in her Framework for Teaching by saying “In order to ensure student learning, therefore, teachers must know not only their content and its related pedagogy but also the students to whom they wish to teach that content.”
Anytime is a good time to inquire about students interests and learning style. The beginning of the school year or semester presents an opportune time to learn about students and this can be easily done with an interest inventory. The best interest inventories ensure you end up knowing your students’ interests and learning styles.
Understanding different ways in which students might learn is important for the teacher to understand so s/he can offer multiple ways of learning content or if offering multiple ways is appropriate. Whole group instruction, independent learning, blended -learning (technology/face-to-face), multiple intelligences approach, and using appropriate engagement strategies might be the tipping point for student success or failure. One way is not the best way and it is the contextual understanding of the teacher to provide the correct learning opportunity at the correct time.
EXAMPLE INTEREST INVENTORY / LEARNING STYLE TOPICS
- Culture: If appropriate
- Gender: If appropriate
- Content Interests: Current events, science, social studies, novels, culture,
- I am most proud of: life, this year, in school, outside of school
- Learning Environments: sound, lighting, seating,
- Personal Strengths and Weaknesses: Appropriate for culture and climate
- Personal Interests: Outside of school activities, interests,
- Learning Style: Audio, visual, kinesthetic, individual or group,
Finally, paring interests/learning styles with ongoing achievement data allow the teacher to have a personalized learning portfolio about the best way to maximize student engagement and achievement. This provides the opportunity for voice and choice for student learning and these opportunities are not a guessing game. It is a calculated and intentional act by the teacher to provide the optimal learning environment and method of learning available. With confidence, the teacher can communicate that “I know your student because I know her/his interests, how they learn best, and I have academic data to make appropriate instructional best practice decisions to maximize your child’s engagement and achievement.” Make sure knowing your student lets you know the entire body of work about the student. If it doesn’t you’ll have trouble maximizing their potential.