Have I actually got to know my students over the years?

As the facilitators from Moodle MOOC 4 proposed the "Knowing my students better" task for Week 2, I quickly wondered: 'Have I really got to know my students over all these decades dedicated to teaching?'

I looked up, let my mind think back, and as lots of good memories from the good all times filled my head and made me smile, I found myself putting my personal thoughts in writing:

After almost 30 years teaching I have had various types of students.

Back in the late 80s my students used to be teenagers who used to come to my private ESL lessons for support, either because they were failing English at school or because their parents wanted them to have extra English lessons. That was face-to-face teaching, and I knew most of them as they were basically next door neighbours; on top of that, their parents would make a full oral profile of their children when they brought them to me.

Not very motivated, I generally had to encourage them a lot, but that was the time of the record player, the tape recorder and the drilling exercises, accompanied by a lot of grammar and long lists of vocabulary (Personal computers were just coming into a few households at the time in Spain).

Soon I found out they needed encouragement and motivation. Just looking at their faces at seven in the evening, after a long school day, coming to my classroom for an extra session on ESL, exhausted after seven sessions or maybe more at regular school, one knew that the right song would do much better than a drilling activity for repetition: sort of soothing I guess...

Then there came the early 90s, and my students changed all together; they were adults that voluntarily attended ESL lessons everyday at state-run schools of languages because they wanted to learn English.

'Awesome! They are going to be motivated enough', I thought, but they came in tired, after a long day of work, and sometimes just wanted to sit down and listen.

Was I prepared to deliver the same speech day after day, year after year? No way! 

Encouragement and motivation again to the rescue! 

And there we went into overhead projectors, transparencies, stickers on magnetic white boards, roleplaying with small cards, menus, brochures, leaflets that I sometimes used to pick on my trips to UK, I must confess.

I am sorry for those petty thefts at some well known restaurants, but that was the only way at the time of presenting the students with some real material when performing mini-plays in class and trying to make them feel like in the real world. And so, they got engaged, and then, videotapes and satellite TV came along; we started to connect the classroom with the outside world, and we found some peers from other state-run schools in Spain and made the first project ever: a video letter showing our town that we sent to them, and we got theirs in return.
Such a small project like that took us weeks carrying a really heavy camera on our shoulders, filming in several rather big video tapes now that one comes to think of it, lots of editing with a video recorder, a television and a sound mixer, but an awful lot of enthusiasm!

Time went by like that for a while, with various bunches of students of the kind and a lot of evolution regarding technologies: CDs, DVDs, European projects and so forth with a single aim: improving the learning environment that the students I knew needed, making them aware of the need of speaking English well, that English was the language of communication and encouraging, motivating, bringing to my side those students, adults from all walks of life, that sometimes just seemed to be interested in getting their certificates, especially when May approached, until I could teach in a computer lab, with a coming and going RTB Internet connection, but still doing my best to show adults in search of a better life that English was real, necessary and also fun, until my teaching came into blended and online teaching, fewer face-to-face sessions and more and more virtual classrooms.

Centuries changed and so did the kind of students I had, now teachers themselves and University students that one day would become teachers, and so, I had to mix different ingredients to cook the broth as I had to teach English, in English, for English teachers or other teachers from various fields, using ICT, providing them with digital competence at the same time as helping with their language skills, but without seeing their faces most of the time, just reading their messages, forum posts, emails, tweets later on, Facebook posts, Whatsapping, Googling, and if I was lucky, viewing their virtual classroom avatars or photos, so that made it more difficult to know how they felt or what they needed in a single session sometimes; it was more complex to realize if they were stressed, tired or happy, and so we dived into interaction, e-connecting, creativity and sharing so as to figure out their needs, and that’s how I came with ICT proposals such as “Where are you doing the course from?” and so having them adding their location in a Google map, or the “Say Hello” forum where all introduce ourselves to each other and express expectations at the beginning of the course, interests and wishes, or the recent Shelly-Terrel-inspired3,2,1 Introduction” sometimes called “Your introduction in 3 steps” to gain some background information about the students and try to adapt to their learning needs, aiming at their benefiting from it all and shaping a learning community; twittering about their achievements, sharing their outcomes with others so they get in touch and establish relationships that might be become connected work.

Now that one looks back in time, once again, like almost three decades ago, one jumps into the same conclusion: it is essential to get to know one’s students, and without even realizing about it, as a teacher, that’s the first thing you do when you enter the classroom, no matter if it is face to face or online.

Helping, guiding, motivating and encouraging a student you know is easier and bound to be more successful than if it is a complete stranger, I guess, exactly as in real life: if you know others well, relationships are fluent and straight forward, everything is easier and more relaxed, you know what they need better.

So, 'why not in online life?'


Top 5 Ways to Get to Know Your Students  from Scholastic, with information, tips and resources for a better knowledge of your learners.

Your introduction in 3 steps

Step 1. Make a fun and interesting introduction using web tools of your choice.

Step 2. Make sure you include in your presentation:
o 3 things we should know about you
o 2 of your favorite activities in the world
o 1 dream occupation you would have if you weren't in the field of xxxxxx

Step 3. Be creative. Feel free about how you would like to present the activity so be imaginative and creative. You could reuse this activity to introduce yourself to your students in the future!