Money that grows on trees. Free houses, free cars, free food, and free phones. More books, more pets and more medicine for sick people. Clean water. Parents who don’t fight.
These are the wishes of JD, a sincere and striving eleven-year-old reader I am tutoring this summer. The prompt that produced his wish list (which perfectly outlines the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) was “Describe ten things that would be present in a perfect world.”
The interest survey offered by Donalyn Miller, literacy guru and author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, encourages teachers to go beyond the standard “What’s your favorite book or author?” type questions when trying to get to know students. The idea is to gather as much input from students as possible to gain insight and appreciation of their individuality and interests. Equipped with results from the survey, teachers are much better prepared to differentiate instruction and provide a path towards lifelong engagement with literacy.
The one-on-one interview with JD took just a few minutes and yielded more information about his world than a year’s worth of typical classroom interactions did. I know this to be true because I was once his teacher and I thought I knew him well. Before he even entered my classroom several years ago, I knew from his previous school records that there were significant gaps largely due to a long history of absenteeism. I recall talking with him about what kind of books he liked and he shared that he liked Michael Jackson so I rounded up books about the King of Pop. I tried to offer plenty of choice to JD as he looked for more books to fill his book box. I quickly discovered that he would benefit from daily small group instruction and I tailored lessons around the foundational literacy skills he was missing. And while I was always determined to capitalize on his strengths and celebrate all that he knew and could do, there was so much that I didn’t know. If only I had made it a priority to invest in an interest survey or interview at some point during our time in the classroom… If only I had then followed up with regular literacy conferences… I might have learned a whole lot more about JD and he might not desperately need a tutor as middle school fast approaches.
As a new school year is about to unfold for teachers and students across the land, my goal for this month’s Teach It Forward article is to help my colleagues avoid the mistake I made in neglecting to utilize a simple yet powerful approach to connecting with kids. I have assembled an array of options for interviews, surveys and conferring sessions. Regardless of which tool(s) you choose, I am confident that the payoff will be well worth the time and effort.
Mindset Works offers a growth mindset survey to help teachers and students explore student perceptions and beliefs. Designed to support students in moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, the resource also provides discussion questions and ideas for making the most of the results.
A basic interest inventory for K‑2, 3–5 and 6–12, from Smekens Education Solutions, Inc. can be found here. The student friendly design for younger students is very appealing. The intermediate and secondary versions would make a great complement to the lengthier survey from Donalyn.
The Wisconsin Rti Center has published a comprehensive guide to conferring with students that supports teachers as they plan for conferences in settings ranging from whole group, to semi-private, small group or with individual students. Complete with procedures and sentence starters, it is user-friendly and includes a variety of forms for use in reader’s and writer’s workshops.
Jen Serravallo offers excellent advice for the beginning of a new year in her blog post
Reading Teacher Priority One: Getting to Know Your Students as Readers. Serravallo also provides an abundance of ideas and lesson tips in The Reading Strategies Book and in numerous reading conference videos that cover such topics as coaching conferences, compliment conferences and conferring in small groups.
In closing, a golden nugget from Donalyn Miller comes to mind; she asserts that “passion drives effort.” I firmly believe that most teachers will do whatever they can to draw out the passion within their students. In some cases, it is easy to identify and cultivate passion. In others, it’s a bit more complex. I think of JD, who imagines a perfect world that simply offers the basics; food, water, shelter and security. Helping him get at the passion that lies deep beneath the surface may take some time and require as much attention to his physiological needs as his academic needs. How fortunate I am that this is the work that defines my passion and most definitely drives my effort. I wish you and your students success with the same discovery.