Enjoying Each Student
With some classes, the characteristics of the group tend to overshadow the personalities and interests of individual students. Earlier this year, I had that experience with my current third grade class, and I took some deliberate steps to get to know each student better.
When I read Margaret Wilson’s blog post “How Well Do You Know Your Students?” recently, it reminded me that taking time to build those one-on-one relationships played an important part in making this year a success.
I’ve written before about the strategies I tried to bring more fun into my classroom this year, including adding more challenges, energizers, and student-driven learning. Those efforts made a big difference in terms of strengthening our classroom community, but something still wasn’t quite right: I felt better about the class as a whole, but I didn’t really feel connected with the children as individuals.
I decided to have an individual conference with each of the students. My goal for these meetings was simply to spend time getting to know each child, but I began each meeting as if it were a reading conference, asking students what they were currently reading and what they thought of their books. Then I let them just talk.
Some students talked the entire time about the book. Others veered off into telling me about something else they’d read, or a place they’d been that connected to the book. Still others changed the subject completely. No matter where the conversation went, I listened, I smiled, I asked questions, and I enjoyed our one-on-one time.
I particularly enjoyed talking with quieter students, who were often drowned out by their classmates. I learned that Jason reads nonfiction because he loves learning new facts about anything and everything. Taylor confided that she would be going to California for her uncle’s wedding, and she’d never traveled that far. Daniel, who always seemed frustrated and reluctant to share in whole-class discussions, talked about something he’d learned in a book at home the night before, and his eyes lit up.
The conferences did what I hoped they would do—they helped me connect with and understand each student better. But working on my relationships with individual students also had an unexpected benefit—it added to the growing sense of enjoyment and fun in our room. We all felt more relaxed. I started having more real, humorous exchanges with students during the day, and they started telling me about exciting events or things they had learned. Quiet students spoke out more often.
Knowing my students enabled me to enjoy each one more and to make school more enjoyable for them as well. The time I spent having those one-on-one conferences was definitely time well spent!
Suzy Ghosh is a second grade teacher at Bush Hill Elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is also a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.