Spotlight on the Student

News-Flash toonvectors-9969-140

I observed my first classes today and what I experienced—newsflash: many students are still bored—made me consider the following:

So what do we do about it? Can we even do anything to prevent students staring out the window? Some might say, short of having no windows, no; you can’t stop them. But maybe we can divert their attention back to class, by coaxing them into the spotlight.

It has become increasingly important to focus on the student as an individual. As teachers, it is our responsibility to get to know our students.  What do they know now? What should they know two months from now? What do they need to know before they move on to a new classroom?


This is known as the Zone of Proximal Development. It demonstrates the levels a student can reach without aid and where they can expand to with support. This form of assessment helps define the role of the teacher in a specific classroom.

As new teachers many of us might feel intimidated by the thought of testing our students’ ability. As a pre-service teacher beginning observation of Middle School students, I plan to absorb everything I can about successfully assessing students. Students don’t want to feel like they are always being tested, but it is essential to have their cooperation in this task. One useful assessment technique to use is a ticket out of the classroom. At the end of a lesson students are allowed time to write an example of what they learned in the lesson or if they are confused, they can write a question. This assessment provides the teacher with important data regarding whether or not the students understand what she/he is teaching.

The ticket out the door assessment is used in  “Seize the Data.”  The teacher learned that many of her students could not write a line of iambic pentameter even though they were exposed to many models prior to being set this task. This result reinforces the importance of assessment data in the classroom. It is important to remember, as new teachers, that we cannot be certain students understand a lesson until we see what they produce in relation to the topic. To be successful teachers we can’t fall victim to confirmation bias. We can’t simply make our students learn by sheer force of will either. So how do we teach? What models and scaffolds do we employ? We must evaluate the students, as a new teacher this is vital. We won’t know if the models work unless we assess them.

Now comes the ever important task of not piling the students with needless testing. We’ll need the students’ cooperation to make the assessments valid, so think outside the box and develop new, fun ways to gauge their understanding.

One way we can engage the students is to make the classroom a social enterprise. In this regard, one term to analyze is 21st century literacy ( sometimes referred to as new literacies). An Article published in the English Journal  explores different ways to make the classroom a collaborative, social experience. Technology and social media put the powers of collaboration at every students fingertips.

As teachers, our main task might simply be to prepare students for the future. YIKES!  With ever-expanding technology, we don’t even fully know what we might need to instruct. Well, in this case I say, don’t instruct (because you don’t know the answer). Instead, collaborate. Be a force that guides students to use the resources around them.  Don’t be afraid to learn alongside your students. Think back to high school, didn’t you always kind of hate that teacher that needed to be right all the time?

Open discussions. Say you are reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower with your class, why not bring it into the 21st century? Instead of a series of letters, imagine Charlie posted a series of Tweets. Ask the students: What might they contain? They’ll have to use the original text to find the most essential sentiments and reproduce them into the format of a tweet. Think about it, there is some high level literary work going on there. And hey, it’s a little bit fun to hear a teacher talk about twitter.  WATCH OUT, they just might learn something.