Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Change Agent #2: Get to know your students.

It’s trite, but true: students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Even when I do a one-time lecture on search engine positioning for Web sites in a New Media class at KSU, I’ll begin by asking the students what they aspire to do for a living. That way I can apply the material to their specific set of interests. One girl got so excited that after class she called her husband and said, “Today this guy told us how we can make our business successful!” Hmmm…excitement about a class on search engine positioning?!? But I got to know her goals enough to apply my lecture to her point of need.

How does that apply to your class? You might begin it like this:

For our first assignment, I’d like to learn something about you: your likes and dislikes, what excites and bores you. Why? Because knowing your interests and goals helps me to lead discussions that address these interests and goals. I’m grading this first assignment on completeness, not neatness or grammar. If you answer all the questions completely, you get your first “A”. Please write down these questions:

1 – Things I enjoy doing. (Please be specific: fishing, watching baseball, playing guitar, etc.)

2 – Style of music I enjoy and favorite musicians.

3 – Favorite celebrities.

4 – Things I’d like to be good at. (Weightlifting, school, baton, band, Halo, World of Warcraft, etc.)

5 – People I most admire and why.

6 – Some vocations that interest me.

What am I doing here? I’m taking an interest in my students. It’s not all about me increasing the test-taking ability of my students on standardized tests. It’s all about them and making them successful. And if I take an interest in their lives, maybe they’ll take an interest in my life and my subject.

Knowing my students gives me ammo I can use all semester. I can keep bringing up vocations and interests that are of interest to my students.

Dale Carnegies’ classic work, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has several principles of life influence that apply here. (I revised the wording to apply to students.)

  • “Become Genuinely Interested in Your Students.”
  • “Be a Good Listener. Encourage Your Students to Talk about Themselves.”
  • “The Big Secret to Dealing with Students” = “Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation.”

    You might ask, “But how can I show appreciation to students who aren’t even trying in class?” I think if we look carefully, there’s something in every student that we can legitimately appreciate. If your having trouble finding something, I’d suggest to go back to the last two Carnegie points and get to know your students.

    One day I was visiting Frey Elementary, where my own children attended. At the entranceway, I met the exceptional principal, who was carrying a bouquet of flowers that he’d apparently just picked from the school grounds. He explained, “one of our students was in a community play this week. I wanted to congratulate her.” Now I have no idea what kind of student she was at Frey. But I’ll bet you anything that after the principal presented her with flowers, that she wanted to do even better.
  • “Talk in Terms of Your Students’ Interests”

Your ideas for getting to know your students and appeal to their interests?

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