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Getting to Know You

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1956 musical The King and I, with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.  She is a teacher who travels to Siam to teach the royal children—the many royal children of all ages and skill levels.  One of the musical numbers is a song called “Getting to Know You” which she sings to her students.



I don’t know how difficult it was for the real Anna Leonowens to teach all those different students, but I do know how it is for public school teachers here.  Teachers are strapped for time, resources and support.  The best thing we teachers can do to make our teaching appropriate for each of our wonderfully unique individual students is to get to know them.  We learn theory and are introduced to a variety of teaching strategies in our university courses but in order to be able to put that information to use, we must find a way to get to know our students.

Over the course of this internship I have seen how my mentor teachers get to know their students, how some of the teachers I observed do that, and I have learned a little something about how I can do that.  Each of my mentor teachers starts the semester with what they call an interest inventory.  It’s a short questionnaire that students complete which gives a little information about them.

Interest Inventory

Some of the differentiation we do in class is for learning styles and students with special needs but there are other factors teachers should be aware of that affect learning.  If a student works twenty hours a week as a dishwasher and gets off work at midnight most nights, teachers should know that.  If a student has a blind mother at home that they help care for, teachers should know that.  If a student has aging grandparents who live with them, a new baby in the house, plays several sports, travels with the orchestra, has a death in the family, is in the Latin club competition, has no computer at home, observes particular holy days, or is in this country with no parents, teachers can use that knowledge to help guide student learning and to make learning more accessible to all students.

I have included some ‘getting to know you’ activities this internship.  The first one I created was for a project where students worked with partners that were chosen randomly from a hat.  I started out with some resistance until the students learned a little something about their partners.  I gave students several minutes to talk with their partners and learn their partner’s full name, something the two of them had in common and one interesting thing about their partner that most people probably didn’t know (something the partner agreed to share with the class).  My mentor teacher and I began by introducing each other (her interesting fact about me was that I once milked a camel).  Then I gave students time to talk to each other.  Students each introduced their partners to the whole class and we learned a lot about each other.  The collaborative partnership of making an art project went much smoother after that and I plan to find many different ways for students to get to know each other and for me to get to know them.

Art class is one of the best subjects for differentiating.  Everyone who makes art does it differently and has different skills, so we teachers are obligated to look at each student as an individual and at each student’s progress measured against themselves rather than compared to other students.  If there ever was a standardized test for art, it could only test the superficial knowledge and not the real aesthetic understanding of students.  It takes a teacher to do that—one who knows her students and can draw out their strengths.

~ by anitawesto on April 27, 2013.