How Connecting with Young Learners Improves Student Performance

Researchers from Harvard University think they may have found a very simple way of closing the achievement gap for students. In a recent study, they had teachers distribute a survey at the beginning of the school year to see if they had habits or personal interests in common with their students. A select group of students and teachers were shown the answers. The study showed that the students who saw the answers they had in common with their teachers performed better and improved their grades by the end of the year. The Huffington Post article explaining this survey and its results states, “The idea is this: If a teacher and student discover they have traits in common, they are more likely to foster a personal relationship. When a teacher and student feel connected, student performance improves, the study found.”

This makes sense and seems to follow the idea of how we naturally form relationships throughout our lives, not just in school. You are more likely to spend time talking with and growing a relationship with the people with whom you have a connection.

Language also plays a major role in making connections. In the article Our Life Experiences Shape Our Language by GrapeSEED trainer Katie Iarca, she talks about the unique experiences that each student brings to the classroom. But life experiences are not the only thing they carry with them. She explains, “Along with our life experiences, we also bring our language experiences. We bring the way we express our emotions, the vocabulary we use to identify things and the cadence we use to inquire about things or express our opinions. These language experiences are a beautiful reflection of who we are as people, the culture we identify with and our own family patterns.” Knowing and understanding these language experiences may help you communicate and connect with a student who may be struggling with school language.

So how do you go about making that connection with young learners who are not yet able to fill out a survey like the students from the Harvard study? Here are a few tips.

  • Listen: Take time to listen to what individual students are saying. You may learn something new or discover a common interest or shared experience. And you will learn not only about their experiences, but also the language they are using to express themselves. Are they using school language or their home language? How are these languages different?
  • Ask open-ended questions: Ask open-ended questions during each lesson and throughout the day. This helps students build a meaningful understanding of the school language being used, and children begin making connections between the text they are reading/hearing and their own individual lives. Pay attention to their answers for things you have in common and let them know you share that interest or experience.
  • Talk with students: During a busy day with a full classroom, simple conversation may take a backseat to giving instructions and answering questions to make sure a lesson is completed. Take some time before or after lessons to have a conversation with one or two different students each day. You may be amazed at what you learn and discover a new connection.

Digging deeper through listening, asking questions, and having a simple conversation may help you uncover interests that can be used in your lessons to keep students engaged and open to learning. The benefits of making the teacher-student personal connection seem pretty powerful. It’s certainly worth a try.

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