Getting to know students begins with learning their names.
The Roster Process: After each class, go down the roster and say one thing you observed about each individual: did they say anything worth noting? Did they do their work? Were they upset, sleepy, etc.
If there is someone you paid no attention to, note that as well. Continue the practice daily until it becomes easy.
The Circle Game
On the first day of class when nothing is known and everything seems possible, invite the class to sit in a circle. Facing the person on your left, you introduce yourself. “My name is ________; what’s yours?’ The next person says the name of each person who has gone before and then his or her own name and so on around the circle. This exercise can be repeated now and again during the first few weeks of the term. If you don’t structure the classroom with seating assignments this will prove valuable. Even if you do, it should assist recognition.
In the alternative school we posted polaroids with names below each. Here we were aiming for a broader sense of community as well.
Observe a few people in your class. Body language speaks volumes. If you seek clarification of the feeling you observe, assume the same physical position and/or mimic the facial expression.
Comment on what you saw and how you interpreted what you saw:
If you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror or other reflective surface, freeze for a moment to observe. Comment here on what you saw and how you interpreted what you saw. Become aware of how you hold your own tensions.
If you cannot do it this way, a massage should make all clear.
The Sticking Point
Learning is sometimes blocked over and over again in characteristic ways. Over time an educator needs to note the patterns of individuals. If students are habitually late, don’t do the reading, can’t contribute to class discussion, don’t have a pencil, point it out to help them move on. (Do not be annoyed; it is their problem, not yours.) Awareness is the first step toward change.
Sometimes there are physical handicaps that need to be addressed. Early in the semester observe who isn’t reading, who is very close to the source, who is squinting, who is having trouble reading the screen or board. The number of students who need glasses, new glasses, or eye training can be considerable.
Observe unfocused energy patterns like vibrating and tapping, signs of chronic lack of sleep, unusually short attention spans, hearing losses, physical signs of abuse, depression, etc.
Be alert to the health of the students. Healthy persons learn without much coaxing or unrequested assistance. Normal curiosity and interest is easily stirred. Healthy students have almost unlimited energy. “Boredom” is frequently constrained anger.
Describe “sticking points” for 5 individuals you observed:
The facilitator needs to convey the searching quality of a person who is still learning. Enthusiasm is contagious. It’s alright to acknowledge what you don’t know, and it is especially valuable if you can model how a learner goes about obtaining additional information – from looking up spelling or pronunciation of a word to researching complex topics and reporting in a day or two, to approaching something differently to learn more about it.
For simple tasks like pronunciation, spelling, word meaning, etc., show the class a few times and soon they will do it themselves. It is alright for a student to leave his seat to check in a dictionary which is left open on a stand somewhere in the room or an etymological dictionary or other source and the getting up is not a bad thing.
Facilitators must also convey a deep and genuine respect for other human beings – including those with different values and interests.
This encourages contact. Aim to develop relationships that are supportive, not invasive. Then ongoing dialogue can take place on many levels.
Often a simple daily greeting provides an opportunity for exchange in which problems that need to be addressed find utterance. “How are you?” becomes a request for a personal weather report.