What Our Students Want

The number of hours it takes to run three focus groups of students from Grade 4 – 12?  (3)

The number of hours it takes to pour over the data in order to compile, analyze, and interpret the results? (2)

The number of cups of coffee I drank to stay awake during previously mentioned analysis? (2)

The number of hours I spent wondering which comments came from my personal students (because I didn’t run that focus group actually)? (2)

The value of the information we gathered from the students who participated in the focus group?  (Priceless…….)

We asked them questions about what helps them learn in class, what stops them from learning, and what they think makes for engaging classes.  This year’s group was particularly open and honest and what they had to say was amazing.

These are their answers to our questions:

1.  What makes it difficult for you to learn?

  Teaching Styles:  “If teachers don’t switch it up, students lose focus and get bored.  We want teachers who will mix it up with activities, videos, hands on work, and instruction.  Just writing notes all the time is boring.  If you always write notes you zone out.”

Preparation:  “Teachers who aren’t prepared for class lose time looking for materials or their notes or whatever.  This gives the class time to lose focus and get distracted.”

Assumptions:  “Sometimes you listen to the lesson but don’t really understand it so you try to ask questions but then teachers get mad and say you should have been listening.  I WAS listening, I just didn’t understand it.  Please don’t assume I wasn’t listening when really all I need is help.”

2.  What can we do to help with your learning?

Learning activities:  “These need to be varied so we aren’t always doing the same thing.We need more transition between auditory, visual, and hands on learning.  We also want more collaboration.  Sometimes I learn better when my friends explain stuff to me.”

Teacher Availability:  “I like being able to get ahold of my teacher when I need them, like on Twitter.  Teachers who use social media connect more with me and I feel like I can get help when I need it, not just during school time.  If they have a wikipage I can follow that’s good too so I can find stuff from class easy.”

Distractions:  “Please remove kids who are making it hard to learn.  Cause then no one is learning anything.”

Of course I couldn’t write down everything they said and there were more than these two questions but here’s what I took away from what they said.

They want teachers who

1)  Are prepared and know their stuff.

2)  Are available at a variety of times when the student needs help.

3)  Understand that collaboration is a key part of their learning.

4)  Will “switch it up” during class with a variety of methods of teaching.

5)  Understand their needs and don’t always make negative assumptions (ie.  that they weren’t paying attention).

It sounds so simple and yet when it comes straight from the students themselves it really makes me stop and listen.  Do I make those assumptions?  Am I giving them enough engaging activities so that I don’t have “distracted” kids in my class which make it tough on the rest of them?  Am I prepared or am I losing them at crucial moments to hunt for that box of lenses I thought was on my desk but it’s not…..

But here was the last, and possibly most interesting, question.  When asked, “What would you like in your dream school?”, they said:

– to bring my own personal devices into class (cell phone, iPod, iPad, laptop)

– more teachers to use  a wikipage

– a full time tech person

– substitute teachers who can use technology

– a choice for projects (not just tech based)

There were about 3 other school based ones but these 5 all involved a technology component.  I’m fortunate in that I work in a school division that doesn’t block every little thing.  My students have access to Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and pretty much anything else they want.  And yet there are some teachers that ban the use of any technology they might bring in.  They collect cell phones in baskets on their desks and confiscate iPods as soon as they see them.

Instead of banning the technology, what if we taught them appropriate use?  Trusted them to use it properly?  Sure there will issues, but if we start by giving them trust and respect, potentially they may surprise us all with what they can do.  If they are going to have access to the most powerful sources of information and technology I think it’s important that we incorporate that into our daily lessons.

But it makes me curious?  Who else out there has policies that ban technology?

Here’s what’s really interesting….

Our parent focus group would LOVE to see technology in the school banned.  More about that later with my next post on our Parent Focus group….

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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