Valuing Students as Individuals

The best way to help someone is to truly know and understand that person.  There is so much more to each student than that child’s reading ability and how proficient they are in math.  However, in an era of high stakes testing and insistence upon accountability, far too often the integral pieces of each child that makes up who that child is get ignored, and the academic abilities are treated as the only parts of the child that actually matter.

I believe it is important to get to know who each student is, to learn about their interests and strengths, and to bring out that side of a child which may not typically manifest itself in a classroom environment.  All these elements make up the whole child, and are therefore important to know and understand in order to get to know each student.  Knowing such personal details helps to establish a personal and important connection with each child.  If a child believes that he or she is valued as an individual, I believe that child is more likely to be motivated to succeed, not only in school, but in all aspects of his or her life.  Connecting with each child, and getting to know each student as a person, and not simply a culmination of his or her test scores and proficiency marks, shows students that I care and want to help make a difference.  Additionally, knowing each child on this individual level: understanding their interests, being aware of how they like to spend their free time, recognizing who they like to hang out with and what their non-academic strengths and challenges are, helps me more effectively differentiate my teaching to meet the needs of each student.  Students are more likely to be engaged if they feel the material applies to their own lives, and I can make it applicable by connecting it to what I have learned about the whole child.

Getting to know each child as an individual is an ongoing process throughout the year.  People change as they learn and experience new things.  Therefore, as a teacher, I am constantly learning and growing with my students.  On the first day of school my mentor teacher and I distributed ad “getting to know you” survey to each of the students, which they completed and compared answers with their classmates (See Artifact IP1).  My mentor teacher and I also completed a survey.  This allowed us to gain an initial glimpse into the lives of each of our students: what their favorite food is, what movies they like, what they like to do in their free time, and it allowed the students to make connections to one another as well.  The next week we began having Share Days.  On Monday morning every child got to share his or her high and low from the weekend (something good that happened and something bad that happened).  Tuesday each student Team 1 got to bring in an item to show the class or could verbally share something that had happened, on Wednesday it was Team 2’s turn, on Thursday Team 3 shared, and on Friday Team 4 had their share day.  These share times occurred during snack and allowed students a specific opportunity each week to bring in an artifact from their personal lives.  Again, it gave me a glimpse into the child’s life, interests, and personality.

I also was given the opportunity to get to know a number of my students through letters they wrote me.  Toward the beginning of the year, one of my students wrote me a letter listing the five things she liked best about me.  I wrote her a thank you note in response.  This initiated a note correspondence with this student, which soon spread to five other students on a consistent basis, and a few others more inconsistently.  I wrote back to any student who wrote to me.  The second graders would tell me what they did over the weekend, what they liked in school, how their specials classes were going, what they were going to be for Halloween, and a myriad of other topics.  Often in my responses, I would ask questions, indicating my interest in knowing more about each student.  These letters gave me insight into my students’ interests and personalities, into their lives outside of school, and showed each child that I valued what he or she had to say.  They eagerly wrote back, and anxiously awaited my responses (See Artifact IP2).

I also indicated that I valued my students as individuals by considering their interests when designing my lesson plans.  For example, in my Showcase Unit Plan, I create an entire “Connection to Students” section in which I consider what students are interested in, how well they work in groups, and how the lessons would give me even further insight into each child’s interests, personality, and abilities.  I attempted to make such connection for each of my lessons (See Artifact IP3).  In a similar way, I allowed students to make individual choices based on their interests during certain subjects.  This was easiest to do during Writing Workshop.  During our poetry unit, each student was required to write an acrostic poem, a shape poem, and an AABB poem.  However, each of the poems could be on a topic of that student’s choice.  There were a wide variety of topics chosen, although because it was close to the holiday season, many poems were about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (See Artifact IP4).  In allowing students to choose their own poetry topics to write about, I indicated that I valued their personal interests.  I also felt as though students were much more likely to be engaged in the assignment if they got to pick what they wrote about.

Another way I indicated that I value each student as an individual is that I differentiated my interventions when implementing the action portion of my action research project (See Artifact IP5).  Both students I was focusing on struggled with confidence and motivation.  Although this is partly an academic issue which can be related to valuing students as individual learners, it is rooted in valuing students as individuals.  Allison and Oliver are different people, have different personalities, have different interests, and their challenges with motivation and confidence manifested themselves in two completely different ways.  In order to work with each individual with integrity and value their needs, I needed to have two different intervention plans.  With Allison, therefore, I focused on confidence to begin with, and issued the Talk Ticket so that she would become more independent and aware that she could be successful without me directly guiding her every step of the way.  Allison’s perfectionist tendencies were preventing her from making significant progress in the classroom.  Oliver, in contrast, took little pride in what he did, and rushed through his work, not doing his best job.  He would have not benefited from a Talk Ticket, which is why the intervention used for him was a behavior chart.  By recognizing each child’s personal needs, I was able to better accommodate their academic needs.