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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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"What Did You Call Me?" – How to Remember Students’ Names

It’s a common predicament for educators. They familiarize themselves with students quickly, but can’t easily retrieve names on demand. The crush of first week stress compounds the problem by redirecting blood for a fight or flight response, dulling teachers’ focus. And biology does us no favors by storing visual information and names in separate parts of the brain.

Some teachers turn to awkward work-arounds. But “Hey, Boss!” or “Good to see you!” are obvious giveaways, and “Can you spell your name for me?” might be answered with “M-i-k-e.”

Here’s the secret: take the same enthusiasm you have for baseball statistics, or civil war battles, or Christian Louboutin shoe prices, or Kardashian trivia, and apply it to learning students’ names. Everybody has a good memory for things that interest them, according to Richard Harris, a Kansas State University psychology professor. So instead of kicking over your inner shame bucket, take a fanatical interest in connecting with your students and their names.

To help you out even more, we’ve prepared a short cheat sheet of effective tactics for imprinting students’ names onto your brain.

 

What techniques do you use to remember students’ names?
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ABullockteaches's picture

I often tie the student's name to a sibling I've taught, something unique about them, or something they have done for example, bowtie Halley, Justin's (sibling) Jessica, or Jody don't call me Judy. I repeat their name and whatever I've associated with them out loud all day long. I also challenge the students by guaranteeing that if I do not learn their names by the next day, I will add 10-15 minutes on to their recess the next day...needless to say, I've not lost thus far.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

I like the idea of making a bet! Well played!

male_ware's picture

Well, The Dixie Diarist, while your self aggrandising post doesn't really address the topic it does promote your product. But, what concerns me most, is your delight in publicly giving a nickname to a pupil you yourself describe as a "victim"; le mot juste. In general pupils don't enjoy public humiliation. Perhaps the advice on learning real names will help us all.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

male_ware,

For what it's worth, his mother thought it was perfect, too. What was your nickname?

Dinesh Poudel's picture

I'm into teaching for 27 years and I almost always knew my pupils' names by the end of the first month of the academic year (their numbers 40-60 in a classroom, and 4-6 forty min. periods a day in different classes, we teachers go from classroom to classroom here in NEPAL). But this year I am still struggling to identify the kids with new classes, only two of them (40 each) are completely new to me and I go to those classes four days a week. Is it age, or something? I'm only 51.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

My guess, Dinesh, is that you have more responsibilities now than when you were in your twenties. Learning names takes time and work...I have to keep reminding myself that there is no substitute for that. As I write this, I'm taking a break from repeating the names of students out loud at a Starbucks! Good luck, my colleague in Nepal.

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger

First off, I used my seating chart heavily, and found that it really helped if they sat in alphabetical order the first week or so. Beside each kid's name, I would write a clue. It might be the name of a celebrity they looked like, a physical detail like a cowlick, or something weird, like "shoes" for the kid who kept kicking off his shoes on the first day. Whatever stood out.

Another strategy -- albeit a more time-consuming one -- would be to take a two quick snapshots of each kid on the first day of school: One with them holding a dry-erase board with their name on it, and one without. These could then be printed out and used to make two-sided flash cards (I would just print them in low quality and just glue-stick them to index cards...you'll only need them for a few days, so they don't need to be awesome). For middle and secondary teachers, this would be a LOT of flash cards, but it's the kind of thing you could do in front of the TV, no? Then you can carry them around with you for a few days and study like you'd study SAT vocabulary words.

I would also add that it's really, really important to put lots of effort at the beginning of the year into making sure you're calling students what they want to be called, and pronouncing their names correctly. If a student has an unusual name, chances are they are already used to having it bungled, so be one of the rare ones who gets it right.

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Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

The dry-erase board technique is great, Jennifer!

keg2139's picture

I'm a newer teacher and I make a big show out of learning my students' names. On the first day, each student writes their name or preferred nickname on a scrap paper table tent. Over the next few days, I "test" myself by matching the names to the students, passing out the name tents while they're working on the Warm-Up. Seeing their name next to their face helps me memorize the names pretty fast, plus I can call on them using their names from the start. I practice again as my kids leave the class and whenever I see them in the halls, making a big show of getting it right or trying to remember. Since I'm kind of silly about it - dramatically shouting, "No! Wait! Don't tell me!" if I can't remember and doing an enthusiastic fist pump when I get it right, it helps me connect with students individually, while sharing a bit more of my playful personality.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

Sounds like you make it fun! Thanks for sharing your approach!

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy
Blogger

First off, I used my seating chart heavily, and found that it really helped if they sat in alphabetical order the first week or so. Beside each kid's name, I would write a clue. It might be the name of a celebrity they looked like, a physical detail like a cowlick, or something weird, like "shoes" for the kid who kept kicking off his shoes on the first day. Whatever stood out.

Another strategy -- albeit a more time-consuming one -- would be to take a two quick snapshots of each kid on the first day of school: One with them holding a dry-erase board with their name on it, and one without. These could then be printed out and used to make two-sided flash cards (I would just print them in low quality and just glue-stick them to index cards...you'll only need them for a few days, so they don't need to be awesome). For middle and secondary teachers, this would be a LOT of flash cards, but it's the kind of thing you could do in front of the TV, no? Then you can carry them around with you for a few days and study like you'd study SAT vocabulary words.

I would also add that it's really, really important to put lots of effort at the beginning of the year into making sure you're calling students what they want to be called, and pronouncing their names correctly. If a student has an unusual name, chances are they are already used to having it bungled, so be one of the rare ones who gets it right.

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Joanne Finnegan's picture

I'm not sure I could do it any longer since age has limited my ability to even remember what I had for lunch today! But, I used to learn most of my students' names by, at minimum, the second week of school. There were years I had as many as 140 or more students, not counting study hall. I created seating charts, sometimes letting them choose where to sit, sometimes alphabetically by first name, last name or backwards alphabetically to mix it up a bit. I made sure I assigned something written on paper to hand back by the second or third day, usually some kind of personal inventory that could help me relate to the students. I would look at the seating chart to help me remember as I checked off the work and made myself say the name as I handed back the paper. It worked for me! I also tried especially hard NOT to associate any last names with previous students or ask if "so and so" was your "brother or sister" so I wouldn't make mistakes and call the student by a sibling's name. As the third sister I HATED when teachers did that!

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

Thanks! It's funny how much a solid sense of humor can help too. I've always found that people (kids included) are able to laugh when I'm open about the fact that I can't remember, so long as I'm open about it and don't try to pretend- and IF it's clear that I'm making an effort. They forgive us if we're wrong, right?

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

It's such a small thing, right? But remembering someone's name is so important- as is owning up when you can't remember. (We've all been there, that's for sure.) Thanks for sharing these ideas- I'll be sure to pass this one around!

Btw, I wrote a blog post on this topic- less "how," more "why" but it might still resonate. http://antiochcriticalskills.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/remembering-the-na...

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