Student Surveys

Like many teachers, I have my students fill out surveys at the start of the year in order to start getting to know them as quickly as possible. When I first started doing this, I simply copied the reading and writing surveys Nancie Atwell included in In the Middle. Since then, my surveys have changed a lot. I still use some of her questions, but I’ve also incorporated questions from Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp, and I’ve also added many questions of my own. There’s so much I’d love to ask my students, but I also don’t want to overwhelm them at the start of the year, so I spend a lot of time each summer deciding which questions are the most important to include.

Currently, I use three different surveys, one about reading, one about writing, and one asking for other information about students. I have two big goals for the surveys. One, of course, is to help me get to know them. The second, though, is for these surveys to become a reflection tool later on. Students will complete these same surveys at other times during the year, and they will then compare their responses, noting changes and areas of growth. This is one of the ways I decide what questions to include: Which ones will help them to reflect later in the year?

As I read the surveys, they will help me create stacks of books for every student to preview. They will also help me discover which students are likely to need more assistance or attention early in the year as we choose our first books and start reading. And they will give me insights into conversations I can have with students early in the year. Ultimately, I hope that I can use the responses to help build trust.

This year, we’re filling out the surveys a little differently than before. After reading this blog post and also looking at my schedule for the first couple days, I decided to split up the surveys into parts. We’re filling them out this week according to this schedule:

  • Tuesday: Getting to Know You #1-5, Reading #1-10
  • Wednesday: Getting to Know You #6-10, Reading #11-end
  • Thursday: Writing #1-9
  • Friday: Getting to Know You #11-end, Writing #10-13
  • Monday (of 2nd week): Writing #14-19

As with my parent letters, I benefited greatly from reading the work of the teachers mentioned at the beginning, so feel free to use any of the questions from my surveys as you create or revisit your own.

There are links to my surveys within this blog post, but here they are in list form:

Working with Students Who Challenge Me

Earlier this week as I was reshelving books in my classroom library, I found a photo inside one of them. It was a picture of one of my students as a young boy, probably two or three years old, being held by his mom. For some reason, looking at that picture really struck me. This boy can be a challenge to work with. I think that I’m a fairly patient teacher, but he is someone who tests my patience quite often.

Looking at the picture, seeing him with his mom as a young boy, made me think about my girls, one who is in preschool and the other who just turned two. I love them both and think they’re amazing, and as their dad, I know I’ll always feel that way. As they get older, though, who knows what they’ll be like, what challenges they might present to their teachers? I pray that they’ll be blessed with teachers who will see them like I see them, who will be patient and love them unconditionally, who will have high expectations for them but not get frustrated when they make mistakes, who will treat them with respect even if they aren’t always respectful.

As a teacher, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture with kids. When a student is being difficult, it’s easy to look at him or her simply as someone who is making our day harder. It’s easy to forget that somewhere out there is a mom or dad, a grandma or grandpa, someone who loves that child like I love my own girls.

When this boy came to class the next day, I gave the picture back to him Part of me, though, wanted to keep it as a reminder. I hope that in the moments where I feel my patience wearing thin (like today, actually), I can remember the picture and the way his mom looked at him back then, take a deep breath and relax, and keep each interaction I have with him the rest of the year positive. I hope that, even without a visual reminder, I can remember this for each of the students in my class.