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Helpful Tips on How to Get to Know Your Students

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Getting to know your students is one of the most effective ways to create a harmonious classroom environment. Teachers and teaching assistants alike know how different each child is from his or her peers. Similar to adults, they all have their own set of attitudes, beliefs, biases, likes, dislikes and coping mechanisms. Knowing all of these can be the difference in developing a fun, yet respectful atmosphere in the classroom. For instance, if you know that a particular student dislikes being praised publicly, you can give praise subtly either through writing a note in his book or speaking to him/ her one to one.

Getting to know students in an individual level can be challenging especially if you have a huge class. But, however large your class is, there is always a way to get to know them. You just have to be willing. Here are some ways that I have found useful over the years:

  1. Ask pupils about their weekends every Monday morning: Find 5 to 10 minutes on a Monday morning to ask what your students did on the weekend. This is a relatively simple task that can reap such huge rewards. They may tell you that they have watched a sports game or a movie, and who they watched it with. From this conversation, you would know what sport they love and which player/ team they follow. Such wealth of information can be used as ice-breakers when they become unresponsive in lessons. For example, if a child who supports Chelsea and love Fernando Torres struggles with addition, you can give hypothetical examples such as ‘Torres scored 1 goal against Arsenal and 2 against Liverpool. How many goals has he scored altogether in those two games?” 
  2. Join in on their games in the playground: Being able to join in on the kids’ games in the playground can make them feel comfortable around you. By playing their games, you are showing that you are also capable of following their rules, as they follow yours in the class. It shows them that a person can both be respected and be fun to be with.
  3. Crack some jokes once in a while: Similar to the previous tip, this one shows that you can be fun. Most teachers fear that once they crack jokes, students will not take them seriously. But my experience suggest otherwise. Having shared a joke or two with my students (particularly when I worked with teenagers), I began to be accepted even more. One student commented that I became the person they approached the most because I can relate to them.
  4. Find out what music, TV programme, sports, etc. they like and familiarise yourself with them: As a person from a different generation, they may think we are out of touch with the current trend. Surprise your students by knowing more about their favourite artists, films, etc.
  5. Listen actively to your students: Use body language effectively. Allow your students to finish what they are saying and concentrate on their points of view. Make sure that you clarify anything that you do not understand.
  6. Use a ‘Free Expression Box’: There would be more than one student in any given class who prefer not to say anything due to anxiety. Make sure you have a box (call it whatever you like) in the classroom in which the students are allowed to put notes in. These notes may contain their thoughts about you, their peers, the school or their family. Be very clear about the rules for confidentiality and disclosure, though.
  7. Use these positive words and phrases:20130708-124901.jpg
  8. Ask them for feedback: Do not be afraid to ask them how they felt about your lesson or activity. Ask them what they enjoyed and what you could improve next time. One may fear that this gives complete control of your class to the students, but I disagree as this promotes harmonious and inclusive atmosphere in your classroom. It makes your students feel that you consider their thoughts and opinions.
  9. Use Golden Time and Free Play times to speak to your students: Spare 5 to 10 minutes of your marking/ planning time to speak to kids during relaxed/ unstructured times such as free play and golden time. Ask them about their day/week, how their pets are, or anything that they are interested in.
  10. Let your students know you: Communication and relationships are a two-way street. Let your students know a bit about you. Tell them what music/sports/TV programme, etc. you like. Just like you, they will find some similarities between you that would build a foundation to a stronger bond between you.
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Does my student have Autism? Common signs to keep an eye on

Autism is a spectrum of conditions which affect different areas of people’s lives. Since its manifestation is very different from one person to the next, it is very difficult to tell whether a child has it or not, especially in the classroom. Students who have Autism but is not diagnosed are often labelled as ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, or ‘odd’, amongst other things, which could lead to many different negative consequences such as bullying, and/ or depression. Therefore, it is important for teachers and teaching assistants to know what signs to look out for in order to determine whether a child needs to be referred to professionals to be assessed and diagnosed.

Below are a few common characteristics which majority of students with Autism present.Having worked with people of various ages (3-16 y/o) who have been diagnosed with Autism for a long time, I have noticed that they display some common behavioural patterns (AGAIN, REMEMBER THAT AUTISM IS A SPECTRUM OF CONDITIONS). I must warn you that this list is only a guideline and not an official diagnostic criteria. PLEASE NOTE that it is easy to go down the road of ‘home-based diagnosis’ and that teachers must remember not to do so.It is also important to remember that Autism manifests in different ways, therefore the magnitude of each characteristic, and the combination of characteristics WILL vary from one person to another. Students who exhibit these characteristics should be referred to the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (or equivalent). I always tell my colleagues at work that it is better to flag up a student as possibly having Autism (or another Special Need) and be proven wrong, than to ignore the signs and risk not getting the right help and interventions for the student.

Here is the list of characteristics/ behaviours:

  1. Makes very little or no eye-contact. Some children may give eye contact but would only look at you from the corner of their eyes.
  2. Can only understand questions (even simple ones such as what the weather is), when phrased in a specific way. If certain words or if the sentence structure is changed, despite the meaning staying the same, they will appear clueless  and may not give any response.
  3. Has difficulties imagining a situation or ‘putting themselves in other people’s shoes’.
  4. Takes spoken language literally and has a very limited understanding (if at all) of metaphors. If told ‘would you like to come and sit on the carpet?’ because it is carpet time, a students with Autism may respond with ‘No’.
  5. Instead of talking to people, they talk AT them. Conversations are led by them all the time, and the topics only revolve around the things that they like. They may lose interest  (or ignore you) if you speak about something that they do not find interesting.
  6. Finds it difficult to read facial expressions and emotions. 
  7. Displays inappropriate emotions. May laugh even if someone’s crying. May ignore someone’s cry for help.
  8. Does not obey your instructions unless their name is mentioned or unless you are talking to them face-to-face.
  9. Gets upset when routines change, e.g. when a lesson is cancelled, when a substitute teacher is taking the lesson or when moved seats.
  10. Repeats phrases they have heard, even inappropriate ones.
  11. Has little or no interest in seeking out other children to play with or interact with.
  12. Play with toys in an unusual way, e.g. instead of rolling cars to pretend they are real cars, students with Autism may line them up.
  13. May be overly fascinated by patterns or strong visual stimuli, e.g. brightly coloured poster on the corner of your classroom wall.
  14. Can be overly active or much less physically active than their same-age peers.
  15. Develpmental milestones may be achieved in a pattern that is not the same as everyone else– can be noticed when placing them on Profile Points level (England, UK).

 

More on Autism:

Vote for Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?