Embracing Student Idiosyncrasies

by mrsapia


One of the most difficult, yet exciting parts of our jobs as educators is meeting the wide and varied needs of our students.  Whether we teach in homogeneous or heterogeneous environments, all students respond to a multitude of teaching strategies and approaches.  It’s like a giant puzzle piece, with some pieces fitting perfectly with the first try, or pieces which take repeated attempts to find the right connection.  Below are six ways that have proven successful for me when embracing my student’s idiosyncrasies.

Talk to Kids:

It does not get much easier than this. Our job of building relationships should be the number one priority in all classrooms.  A simple face to face conversation shows the student we are serious about how to best met their needs.  We can discuss learning styles, seating arrangements, auditory, visual, or kinesthetic approaches, to name a few.  Best of all, these conversations take 1-2 minutes.  Many classroom changes can and should be made after these conversations to ensure students are stakeholders, to some degree, in class.

Monitor Progress and Reflection:

At this point, we all know we teach in a data driven environment. I can make an argument about the overabundance of data we need to collect, but that’s for another post. However, systematically monitoring student work is a non negotiable because part of our job is to use data to best drive our instruction.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  The most high leverage practices that have been effective for me is the use of small group conferencing and digital portfolios.   Seesaw is my go to tool for digital portfolios, as well as Google Classroom.  When reviewing student work, leaving targeted focused feedback in small amounts, as well as setting goals with students, can help them to become more reflective thinkers.  This empowerment is focused around students thinking meta-cognitively, as well as building a relationship with their teacher.


I’m a believer in the power of a survey for students. In addition to talking to kids, we can implement surveys as well.  This can be done both digitally or on paper.  Until a trusting relationship is built with their teacher, some students might feel more comfortable using a survey to ensure their voices are heard about what teacher strategies will help them augment their academic abilities. Be prepared for honest feedback about what’s successful and areas that you can improve! I usually administer a survey three times a year. Google forms is the easiest tool that best fits my needs, but there are many other sites that can be used.

Connect with Parents/Guardians:

Connecting with parents and guardians is essential in creating a partnership to ensure their child has the best year possible.  There is an enormous amount of information we can gain from working WITH parents and guardians. Take the time to build relationship with them.  Ask how their child approaches school, how they best learn, and what characteristics would their child like to see in a teacher.  Click this link for an example of a parent survey.  Additionally, make positive and proactive phone calls early and often.  Highlight the great work their child is producing, risks they’ve taken in class, ways they’ve help others.  These phones calls go a long way in establishing meaningful relationships and team building to have the best year possible.

Gamification Activities:

This one is the deep end of the pool.  There are many ways to “gamify” your classroom.  The most meaningful and memorable activity I’ve used is Breakout EDU.  Read all about it here.  This is so powerful because the premise of a breakout is team work, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and engagement centered around content being taught in class. (NOTE! Breakout EDU also has many games created by educators in their sandbox both using the kit and digital breakouts)

After I introduce the “mission” to the students, I become very hands-off, with the exception of giving two clues, because while the breakout is in motion, I observe.  I look for students who take on leadership roles, students who communicate in a productive way, students who don’t participate as well as I would have hoped, and students who work together. It’s a great way to informally assess students in a way that is non traditional. Furthermore, providing a reflection for students can help them think about what was successful,  ways they can improve, and providing ideas for a future breakout tied into their idiosyncrasies and learning styles.

Working as a Team:

If teachers service and teach the same students, we must carve out time to discuss what’s effective for each teacher.  This is an opportunity for collaboration and sharing of best practices. Every teacher has their own style, so communicating what’s effectively helping a child move forward in a specific class should be shared among staff to provide the best learning environments for students.

What are some ways that you’ve meet the variety of ways your students learn? And for the record, no, I was not driving in that picture.  I was parked in a lot waiting for Trader’s Joes to open.  You never know when inspiration will strike.

I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach sixth grade Individuals and Societies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was chosen as a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and a PBS local digital innovator. I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator, presenter, and speaker. I have presented at various conferences in the tri-state area about literacy and technology. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach