Do they really know their own needs?



I am struggling to narrow down my focus for this post before our next face to face, which is why I have put it off for so long. I conducted many interviews with students about their needs in both my French and English classes. I’ve found it hard, however, to get anything terribly meaningful out of them. Not because they weren’t being honest, but because they’re teenagers, and most of them focused on not having enough time in a day and/or needing more sleep. Both of these needs are fair, of course, but I am not convinced I should develop an action plan around them. I also (in all honesty) feel like we sometimes give students a little too much voice in the classroom these days.


When I tried to narrow down my own thoughts, I found it almost impossible to decide what to focus on. In my English classes, I wonder about how to get them more engaged in the reading? How to get some of my more reluctant writers to take pride in their work? How to foster more empathy, resiliency, and curiosity? In my Core French classes, I wonder how to help them develop fluency when I only get to see them a few times a week? How do I encourage them to speak French to each other when they are in class? And finally, in my Open French Course, how do I manage 22 students learning a language in a Harkness classroom? The space is awkward and it makes classroom management a challenge. These are probably my most pressing questions, though I have many more.


Fortunately, I’ve seen many of these questions come up with other people’s posts. I really loved reading @lfarooqย and @jbairos‘ posts because I heard many of the same comments from my students and I have many of the same concerns.


I am eager for Saturday to get some help sorting out my brain and deciding which question(s) to focus on.


ps. Please note that the photo below is not me but when I searched “confused” in free photos, she seemed to fit the bill.

  5 comments for “Do they really know their own needs?

  1. November 16, 2018 at 10:54 am

    @sthompson Narrowing down a focus is a challenging task. What seems urgent and worthy of your time/energy might not be in the eyes of your students and vice versa. Reading & writing engagement is a universal challenge and one that you would certainly see immediate return on time invested. French fluency and participation has been a popular action plan in the past and there are many c21 alum like (@ddoucet) who have gone before you with this same project. I guess it comes down to what you most care about right now to want to dig into and build some action around. You certainly are rich with choice ๐Ÿ™‚

    See you Saturday!

    @lbettencourt @jweening @lmitchell @tjagdeo

  2. November 16, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    So many different challenges to ponder! For me, I gave myself permission to focus on one grade (2 sections of the same class). I know that the changes I made to Grade 7 French will likely also fit well into my other classes, but I can’t do everything at once. It’s way too overwhelming. So giving myself permission to pick one spot was a helpful first step. And hopefully next year I’ll pick another spot. And then another. Improving our teaching is truly a vocation that will take the space we give it (and then some!). As Justin said, what is most urgent for now, and then you can keep your other ideas for the future! See you tomorrow, Jenn

  3. November 16, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    @sthompson – if your learner interviews didn’t help to narrow down your focus, is there a particular area of frustration that you’ve been facing personally as a teacher? Is there something you would change about your teaching, your classroom, or your school if you could just snap your fingers? Reading your post I’m reminded of the phrase that I’ve heard from the Design Thinking world, which is to “fall in love with the problem”. If you can narrow your focus to the problem that you are most passionate about, or most frustrated by, I’ll bet you’ll be able to develop a kickin’ action plan!


  4. November 16, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Hey @sthompson – welcome to the game! Not that you weren’t in it before but I love that you’re wrestling with these ideas. I wonder if there’s something you can anchor in as we move forward in our strat plan with a lens for Authentic Learning – what might that look like?

    @gvogt did some amazing work at RNS with reading but he had a really expansive sphere of influence and the authorization to reimagine a program. What can you do with English given that you have really supportive colleagues with whom you share a course? @danielleganley also does some amazing work with her writers. @shelleythomas @ckirsh @brenthurley & @tantoniades are alum you could check out too!

    Looking at the CEFR for French particularly the A1, and A2 for your Open and Core students could be helpful. Given your creative spirit, I think that exploring the expectations at each level across all competencies will help generate some ideas around your dilemma. I’m thinking of @jenbibby who uses an action-oriented approach to FSL and @vkraus who used Harkness in Core class and was focussed on having them speak more in class.

    I’m not sure that students can have too much voice in their learning if we’re guiding them in a way that promotes great learning. It sounds like they may be making excuses for obstacles but what’s great is that you’re asking them to think about their learning. I I wonder if a What, So What, Now What visible thinking routine to help them overcome the obstacles to their learning would help? After that we can support them and their action plan to achieve any learning goals they may set for themselves.

    I’d love to hear more about, enjoy the day tomorrow and I’d be happy to chat at any point in the process! I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with your action plan!

  5. November 16, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Sarah,
    Can you imagine if teenagers ran our schools in the absence of adult guidance? It would be one big class called nap! I know they need more sleep and at different times of the day than adults, but the universality of this answer could also mean they aren’t making the best decisions about when and for how long to sleep. This is hardly something a teacher can control.

    You’ve listed so many great options. I think Justin is on to something when he says, “…what you most care about right now and want to dig into.” Hopefully Saturday helps you to decide what you are willing to spend time on even when you don’t feel like it. I look forward to learning more about your final decision. ๐Ÿ™‚

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