Learning the Individual Needs of Your Students

Getting to know our students is essential if we want to really meet their needs. Especially for students with special needs, it’s not enough to simply know their label and assume the minimum level of legal and impersonal modifications will meet their needs. Think about the students you have right now that are not thriving and give some of these strategies a try in order to deepen your knowledge about how best to work with them.

  1. Watch and learn. If you’ve chosen one student to focus on, one of the best sources of information is observation. For several days, commit to watching and jotting notes on how that student operates in your class.
    1. Are they quick to speak to their partner or do they stay quiet?
    2. Do they demonstrate grit while working or give up quickly?
    3. Do they have many friends in class?
    4. Are they naturally organized or are their binders a mess?
Understanding their basic tendencies in class can help you find ways to make connections with them and also see what their strengths are and where they may need support.
  1. Track their choices. Building on the ‘watch and learn’ ideas, when you offer students choices, jot down what they choose to do. Whether they choose to work on their own or with a partner, choose to demonstrate their learning with a picture over a sentence, or choose a certain topic for a research project, all of these choices give you important information about what that student’s learning style is and how you can best reach them.


  1. Get into their folder. Every student has some amount of paperwork that follows them throughout their schooling. Go take a look and see what’s there. If you’re lucky there might be work samples, parent conference notes, report cards, and myriad other sources of information that can give you context for that student.


  1. Ask them. Arrange a time to sit down with that student and ask them some questions about their past experience at school. If you don’t have a good relationship with the student and you’re not sure if they’ll be open in a conversation, ask a staff member who does have a good relationship with them to sit in or help lead the conversation.
    1. What have they enjoyed so far in your class?
    2. What has been their least favorite or hardest thing about your class?
    3. Who is their favorite teacher and what did s/he do that they liked?
    4. When have they felt successful in school and what were the details of that situation?
Students can’t always tell you what they need, but from learning about the experiences they’ve had and how they’ve felt about those experiences can give you ideas for what to replicate and what to avoid or change.
  1. Talk to their parent or guardian. Parents or guardians can share a wealth of information with you about the personal interests and tendencies of their child. You could also ask them many of the questions you ask the child and they may have more examples or tips to share from past school experiences.
Based on my experience at YES Prep, some parents may try to hide the fact that their child has special needs due to misconceptions that charter schools don’t serve special education students. If you think this may be an issue, consider opening the conversation clarifying this so that parents know you’re committed to serving their student and feel comfortable sharing openly.

Taking the time to really focus in on a targeted group of students to learn their needs will go a long way towards ensuring your instruction helps move them forward successfully. The other benefit is that the students will notice your interest and know you care about who they are and what they need. As this relationship becomes stronger, students will be more open about what they need so you can better serve them as the year goes on. The result of reaching out and getting to know your students better is always positive, so choose a student and get started!

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