Getting to Know Your Students through English Reading

student reading a book

Getting to know students through reading

Recently, I had the good fortune to witness a discussion on #keltchat about how to get to know our students better.  As a busy teacher with lots of students, this isn’t an easy task in a reading class.  Although I have office hours, I spend most of the time in there preparing for the next lesson or grading the growing mountain of papers sitting on my desk.   But after thinking a little about the topic, I came up with some ideas of how to get to know your students through English reading.  Here are some ideas:

1. Provide students with a choice:  Giving the students the freedom to choose what they want to read in your class is not only a good motivational strategy but it gives students a chance to show who they really are.  Choosing one genre of reading over another, for example, can really say something fundamental about what interests a student and how they relate to the world.  If a student chooses a mystery story over an adventure story, for example, it offers a little insight into what makes them tick.

2. Explore relationships:  Discussions or assignments about a reading can center on how students related to a particular character or situation in a story or article.  How do these match or differ from themselves and their own life situations?  Not only is this is a good way of helping students to engage deeper in a reading but it’s also a good way to understand the challenges that might exist in a student’s life.  Keep in mind that things the student disliked about a particular reading are just as important as what they did like.

3.   Reading journals:  The hows, whens, and whys of a students’ reading habits can tell you a lot about a student.  By looking at what they’ve written in their journals, you can get a sense of what is happening in their lives.  Are the notes rushed and sloppy or neat and meticulous?  Are there sudden shifts in the quality of work that might indicate a student is struggling, possibly with something outside of school?  Asking students to write their feelings about a particular reading in their journal can also reveal aspects of who they are (see suggestion #2 above).

4.  Approach readers as potential writers:  If students are reading fiction, you could ask them how they might have approached telling the same story.  Would they have altered the ending?  Spent more time with a particular character?  Taken a different direction with the plot?  The answers to these questions show how students engage with the contents of a reading on a “meta” level.  This can reveal quite a lot about them in terms of their own goals and perceptions of how situations should be resolved in their lives.

5. Give them a challenge:  Sometimes it’s okay to give your students something that’s probably too difficult for them.  Giving your students a reading lesson or article that’s beyond their current skill level and seeing how they react can really tell you a lot about them.  Do they approach the task with redoubled efforts, get easily frustrated and give up, enlist the help of their classmates (or their teacher)?  The way that people react to a high-difficulty reading can reveal a great deal about their character.