I have used this student interest and experience questionnaire more or less unchanged for the past four years. I have my students fill these out in class toward the end of our first meeting. I enjoy overhearing the kids chat enthusiastically with one another about the questions as they complete their surveys in class. For this reason, I prefer to have them complete this in class instead of taking it home. This also ensures that I receive all of them back.
Not only do I get valuable information about the students who I will be with for 90-minutes a day for the next 18 weeks, but this questionnaire also serves to put everyone at ease and reinforces my opening message that for the most part, they are the curriculum.
While I do read all the questionnaires after I get them back on the first day, this is a lot of information to process at one time. I like to re-read my students’ responses throughout the year. You’ll impress your students and yourself with how many details you’ll remember in the moment if you go through these regularly. Once we’re a few weeks into the semester and I have a feel for who is outspoken and who is more reserved, I like to pick a few of the quieter kids and review their questionnaires. Talking to them about what they wrote or incorporating some of their responses into your lessons can often help them feel like they’re just as much a part of the class.
Have you ever had a lesson that took less time than you thought, a discussion that fizzed out, or a story that flopped? We all have had! Keep your stack of these completed surveys handy the next time this happens. Read a few items from a survey without saying who it belongs to and see if the class can guess.
Why You Should Use This Questionnaire
Obviously we want our students to know that we care about them from day one. We’ve all heard something to the tune of, “Students don’t care what you know until they know you care.” Getting a kid to buy into a class that is conducted in another language doubles or triples the truth in this statement. I have written previously about the things that your students need to hear you say on the first day of class. Whether they admit it or not, students of all ages do care that you care about what is important to them.
Asking the questions in this survey in the first several days of class establishes that we value our students’ interests. It’s also a great segue into Picture and Movie Talk because you can use the students’ responses to inform your lesson designs no matter how formal or informal you prefer to make them. If nobody in the class is in band or plays an instrument, then maybe you skip talking at length about the upcoming band concert.
I use the students’ responses just as much in class as I do outside of it. Seeing a student wearing a concert t-shirt or eating their favorite food in the cafeteria will remind me of other things that they put down on their questionnaire. We both win; we enjoy a good conversation, the student sees that their teacher is a human being, and they know that someone is interested in them enough to take the time to ask them about the things that are important to them. Every kid deserves a champion, right?
While I enjoy reading through my students’ responses and chatting with them about things they wrote on their surveys at the start of the semester, the real magic with this document comes later in the year. Even though I only have my kids for a semester, most of them forget that they filled this out in the fog of the first week of classes. They are amazed when I bring something up during PQA (personalized questions and answers) or Special Person Interviews. Wait until you see the look on their faces that is both shocked and flattered as they wonder how on earth their teacher knows some obscure detail about one of their interests. I find that students not only sometimes forget what they wrote down, but that their interests can change even during the course of a semester.
You probably realized the importance of relationships very early on in your transition to CI-based teaching. As teachers, it’s all too easy to get too busy to nurture them, but we would be wise to take every opportunity we can to remember how much the little positive interactions we have with our students matter. You might have only glanced for a moment at the part where the reticent freshman girl wrote about how she volunteered over summer vacation helping handicapped kids ride horses, but that student is going to remember that you cared enough to ask and will tell you so at graduation (true story).