A burning question I seem to repeat year after year is “How do I talk to more of my students one-on-one beginning on the first day of school?”
I know the value of making eye contact with the adolescents who enter my room. I know the importance of making them feel like they belong here — like they are in a place where they can be themselves, a place where they want to learn.
I confer regularly with my students — about their reading lives and their writing lives — but every year it seems to take me a while to get in the groove. You know, get all the procedures introduced and underway, get students interested in books (and sometimes reading itself), learn names, set up our writer’s notebooks and our blogs and all the different bits of technology we use regularly like Google Classroom and Twitter.
I know all of these things are important, but sometimes I feel like I miss valuable moments of just I-want-to-get-to-know-you in my rush to get everything set up so we can finally begin to learn.
I know myself well.
So this year — I’ve slowed the pace a bit. And my students and I are passing notes.
On the first day of school, I asked students to write their names big and bold on one side of a notecard. (I use these throughout the year to select non-volunteers to speak up and share their notebook responses and to answer questions. You know, like the popsicle sticks with everyone’s name on them idea.) Then, on the other side of the card, I asked students to tell me what they think I need to know about them as a learner in relation to the reading and writing we will do in this English class.
Some of my students’ notes were telling: Many of them lack confidence. Few of them like to read. A couple feel ready for the complex texts they will have to tackle. Some explained in very few words a need to feel validated and cared for and something personal and important to them as learners in my care.
I responded to each student’s note with a personal note of my own, written on a sticky note that I returned the next day in class. One young man questioned as I walked the room passing them out: “Miss, you wrote to all of us?”
“Yes,” I told him, ” and I need you to carefully read what I wrote. Let’s see if we can start a conversation about you and what you need from me as a reader and a writer.” His grin grew as golden.
Silent sticky-note conferences have been the norm in my class for quite some time. They bridge the gaps between face-to-face conferences, build relationships, show we care enough to pick up a pen and pen a few words of encouragement or instruction.
With class sizes of 30 (sometimes 30+) we have to find ways to talk to our students one-on-one often. This passing little notes method fulfills my need to touch base with students, and it fuels their need to be recognized, validated, and hopefully inspired.
If you haven’t invested in sticky notes this year, hurry to the store while they are still on the back-to-school sales. I’ve got a whole crate of them.
Next step: We’ll eventually move into larger pieces of paper, so I want to teach my students to fold notes like I did way back in seventh grade before the advent of all this technology. Texting friends just cannot be as fun as all those little folded notes.
What are your ideas for more face-to-face and one-on-one conversations with students this year? Please share in the comments.