June 1, 2016
Online Journal - Know who you teach, so what you teach can matter...
Tracey Jamieson, Learning Coach, Alberta Conference, Lacombe, AB

Education across Canada is changing; there are changes in curriculum, changes in the type of student that we see in our classrooms, and changes in the expectations placed on teachers to provide students with more than the basic skills necessary for success. In the fast paced changes of the 21st century, we are bombarded with classroom interventions, instructional strategies, learning and assessment methods that claim they will impact student learning for the better.  But I believe the real change needed is in our own thinking; as educators, we must first believe that we teach students, not a curriculum!
When we take on this mindset, we shift the focus from What do I have to teach? to Who I am teaching? This is crucial for student success. Students walk into our classrooms with a variety of life experiences, knowledge, and perspectives, and the only way to ensure that we are creating learning opportunities that engage, excite, and relate to our students is to know who they are. Often, I believe, we make assumptions about the students we teach; we assume that because they are all in the same grade, they have similar knowledge and experience with school. Unfortunately, this is not true, and we often hinder their school experience because of our assumptions. Last week I had a teacher ask me if I could spend some time with one of her English Second Language students, as she felt that she was not making much progress and in fact seemed to be struggling more now than at the beginning of the year. Part of the assessment process is to begin with a conversation/interview to see what the student thinks about themselves as a learner, and this student told me her struggle is reading and spelling, but when I asked her to explain further, she said, “When I practice my words at home my mom tells them differently than my teacher, so when I hear the words at school they have sounds in them I don’t know.” I sat there thinking how profound her comments were, and yet embarrassed at the same time; of course the words would not sound the same and how did we expect her to improve her spelling with such a disconnect between her practice at home and how it needed to be at school? That connection, not only in the curriculum, but with the families of the students we teach, is critically important for us to develop so we can ensure the success of our students.
Connectedness of what we teach with who our students are, allows students to see themselves in what they are learning (Hunsburger, 2007). This concept of connectedness allows learning to be relevant to our students, because when something new is connected to something we already know there is a greater chance we will be able to make meaning of it and recall it later on. Students in the middle school years are at a stage where they are developing their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009), and being able to relate to the content being taught will help to progress the skills of collaboration and the sharing of their own thoughts in a positive way. The importance of knowing our students and connecting their learning to them is linked to their motivation and desire to do well and our ability to intentionally plan learning activities that will benefit each learner. Successful readers are motivated to read and they have a positive attitude and self-concept (Afflerback, 2012); students cannot have this experience unless there is a supportive adult who is taking the time to make connections from their life with what they are learning!
Here are some simple ideas that help build a relationship and that allow us to connect what we teach to whom we teach:
  • Interest surveys - allow us to know what our students are interested in so we can connect what we teach to who we teach
  • Instead of  a meet the teacher night, host a meet the family night
  • Communicate often and in a variety of forms to both parents and students - your words are powerful!
  • Ask questions, and listen for the answers
  • Thank parents
  • Smile
Afflerbach, P. (2012). Understanding and Using Reading Assessment, K–12. 2nd ed. Chapter 8: Assessing ‘the Other’: Important   Noncognitive Aspects of Reading, Newark, DE: International Reading Association
Hunsberger, P. (2007). "Where am I?" A call for "connectedness" in literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(3), 420-424. Retrieved from. eb.a.ebscohost.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=4c699753-deaa-4ad9-9314-b2d09115ecec%40sessionmgr4005&vid=1&hid=4212
Laureate Education, Inc., (2009). The developing reader 4-.The developing reader. Retrieved from. https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_6241189_1%26url%3D