George Lucas Educational Foundation
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As you are beginning to think about returning to school, I have a suggestion that can drastically impact your year (and it's simple): brainstorm questions to ask your students. 

The kids right in front of us often have the most useful information within them -- information that can help us reach and teach them, help us engage them, and that can help us have a fantastic year together.

What to Ask?

Here are several of my favorite questions to ask kids of all ages:

  1. What would be the most useful thing for me to know about you as a student?
  2. What do you wish was different about school?
  3. Describe a moment in school last year when you felt really engaged. Why do you think that moment was such a positive one for you?
  4. What do you think teachers think about you, and what do you wish they'd think about you?
  5. Tell me about a teacher who you feel knew you well. What kind of student were you in his or her class? What did he or she do to get to know you?
  6. If you could build a school, what would it look like?
  7. What do you wish I would ask you so that I can be a good teacher for you?
  8. What makes a weekend day great for you?

When we ask questions, and when we're genuinely curious about what students say, we are communicating an authentic desire to get to know who they are beyond their test scores and beyond what other teachers may share. The questioning and the quiet listening communicate our care for our students.

Managing Logistics

There are many ways you can go about getting responses to your questions. Ideally, sit with each of your students for five minutes or so during the first week of school and listen to them. That one-to-one contact can be a powerful opportunity to connect.

If you teach dozens, or hundreds of students, then this will be hard. Surveys can work to collect this information, although you do need to do something so that kids know you've read -- and heard -- their survey responses. When I taught middle school, I shared summaries of the data I collected with the whole class, such as, "65 percent of you wish that teachers didn't give homework." This is a way of validating student responses.

What's most important, perhaps, is that when you ask students questions, you ask with an open heart and an open mind -- willing to listen to whatever they say, as well as willing to listen for what's not said. Many of our older students have had enough negative experiences in school for them to feel that teachers don't listen to them. This could be the year when you change that for them. Everyone deserves to be listened to, and listening is a powerful way to connect with others.

What else have you asked students? What else could you ask? Please share in the comments section below.

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Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Dr. Jessie Voigts
Publisher, Wandering Educators

I really love #2 - but all of the questions are meaningful and can be so useful. I think one of the things I love to ask is what my students are passionate about.

GaryGruber's picture
Educator, lifelong learner, professional change agent

Great questions, thanks! I would change the word "school" in # 6 to "learning environment" as the word "school" is usually circumscribed and often does not include external community opportunities for learning, even global ones. We have to get out of the school bubble and box.
Regardless, I would love to see these responses from students catalogued and shared in some way. Good work!

Wendy Blommendahl's picture

I like these ideas. To add to the list, I've done a whole-class activity making a T-chart on the board asking "What does a good classroom look, sound, and feel like?" And then, "What does a bad classroom look, sound, and feel like?"
Next I asked, "What can we each do to make this a "good" classroom, not a bad one?"
Finally, I used a LOT of guiding questions to lead them to synthesize everything down and create expectations (rules) for our class.
It was HIGHLY successful with my high schoolers, as they felt they were part of creating the rules. (I had in mind the ones I wanted ahead of time to be sure we at least got those and did a lot of leading to get them to those.) I would think the last part could be modified for younger students.

kristie's picture

Great list. Love the questions. The only thing is that #2 (What do you wish was different about school?) is subjunctive and therefore should be "What do you wish WERE different about school?" Teachers should always use correct grammar no matter what subject matter is his/her specialty.

sudro2's picture

These questions have been an essential tool for getting to know my students better. I've been asking one a week in their daily warmup writing and the answers have been really illuminating.

john_jmadden's picture

A simple statement for the students:

Please complete the following statement:

"I need a teacher who ..........

Then after a time you can reflect with them as to whether you are that teacher.

Alexandru Guzi's picture

If we try to reach to our students and let them see that we want to help them then they will come and listen to us! I've found out that a student who see you as a friend he will try to reach you every time he has a problem or he want your help! We all need to be closer to our students!

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