Why it’s important to understand students’ needs and interests

As a teacher, you might think it’s obvious that you should get to know your students, but how well do you really know the young people who are sitting in your classroom?

Taking a bit of time and care to get to know them as individuals can make you a more effective and impactful teacher. Beyond just finding out your students' names, ages, friendship groups and family backgrounds, it’s important to dig a bit deeper and discover their learning interests and strengths.

The following information about your students will help you to create enjoyable and engaging learning experiences for them.

Know your students’ learning strengths

While one student might excel in arts and creative subjects, their best friend at school might find that maths, sports and science are more suited to their skills. American developmental psychologist Robert Sternberg's theory of intelligence holds that humans typically excel in one of three types of intellect, so teachers are likely to see all these among their students. They are:

Practical intelligence

This is also called ‘street smarts’. Students who are high in practical intelligence will have plenty of commonsense and be able to adapt quickly to changing environments. These students like to play to their strengths and minimise their weaknesses. They are the students who get the job done and like to be involved in tasks.

Creative intelligence

Students who are high in creative intelligence excel at tasks that require invention, creativity, discovery and imagination. These students are great at offering thought-provoking ideas and participating in classroom discussions.

Analytical intelligence

Students who are high in analytical intelligence are great at tasks that require planning, critical thinking and analysis. These students are gifted in terms of their logic and information-processing ability. They are often more studious than they are imaginative, and love to digest new information.

Learn who your students are as individuals

Getting to know who your students are as individuals can help you to provide an inclusive, respectful and accepting classroom environment. This will not only help to keep your students highly engaged in learning, but will also provide a safe space for them when navigating tough times that will encourage them to open up and seek support when needed.

Some students may feel too shy to speak up in classroom discussions, and may not enjoy large-group tasks or volunteering to deliver presentations as much as another student might. Instead, these students could feel more comfortable expressing their views through online forums, one-on-one conversations or via suggestion boxes. Allowing for these differences by using a variety of teaching strategies can help all students experience success while developing their confidence in other areas.

Knowing whether a student prefers to watch a movie, play a computer game, read a book or be outdoors can help you to build an authentic and meaningful relationship with them.

Chat with a student who enjoys gaming about the latest video game, or suggest a book to a student who you know likes to read; this can build trust and show students that you are genuinely interested in their lives outside of the classroom.

Provide students with opportunities to explore key interests

Understanding your students’ interests will help you to provide them with quality learning opportunities. By giving them the opportunity to explore areas they are interested in – for example, the environment – they will be more likely to engage with the learning process.

It’s important not to assume that just because a student excels at a particular subject, sport or creative endeavour, that this is their passion. Give your students time and opportunities to explore their interests and to discover what they truly love to do, so they can develop their knowledge and the skills needed to succeed in the areas they are passionate about.

There are lots of practical ways students can be encouraged to pursue their interests. Some might need a bit of guidance to join youth advisory and interest groups – for example, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Membership of such groups can enhance students’ sense of belonging as they learn to use their voice for change and advocacy.

What can I do now?

  • For more information and teaching resources visit ReachOut.com.