This year on the first day of school, I asked my students to complete three short answer questions. (In my class, that's a question that can be answered in 2-3 sentences; I use these a lot.)
These are the three questions I asked my students to answer:
- Identify and explain a difficult topic or skill that you have worked hard to learn in your life. What does it take to learn something that is challenging?
- What, in your opinion, is the craziest or most interesting thing that has ever happened in world history? Explain.
- Tell me about a great teacher you've had. What was it about them or their teaching that made them so great?
Why these questions?
Each of these questions is designed to cultivate one of the Five Key Beliefs. (⬅️That link is a great primer on this approach to student motivation.)
- The first question is about Effort and Efficacy. I want my students to reflect on how they've worked hard at something that was hard and have grown in it. In my class, we work constantly to define success as “growth toward mastery.” I don't always use that language but that is what I am obsessed with helping my students internalize.
- The second question is about Value. I want my world history students to realize that there are already areas of history that have piqued their interest. My aim is to help them expand what they find interesting and enjoyable and meaningful and interesting. That's all Value belief work.
- And the third question is about Credibility. I want to see what kinds of things my students find admirable in former teachers.
In nine or so sentences, these questions give me loads of insight into my students' inner worlds. But these questions also give my students insight into their inner worlds. I want my students to periodically “think on these things” because what we think on shapes us.
The kinds of things students say
I'll just give a couple examples of the kinds of things my students say, in case you're interested.
The difficult skill question
- Jaden: A difficult skill that I've worked on in my life is learning a new instrument. It takes practice and effort to do that. In order for you to be skilled at the new instrument you have to put in work and not give up.
- Isabella: I've worked hard to memorize country flags and identifying where they are. I just kept practicing until I got it, and then focused on a different one.
- Kylah: Math for me was incredibly challenging from 1st to 7th grade. It took years of dedication, tutoring, and hard work to get where I am now. Instead of E's/D's, I now get A's and B's.
- Kaden: I just got my first dunk on 10 feet. For three years I have worked to get my vertical up. I spent a lot of time doing workouts to get better.
The great teacher question
- JR: A great teacher I've had in the past was Mr. Jackson. He was great because he was fun and nice. Not only that, he always had a standard that had to be reached.
- Evan: Mr. Martens was a great teacher because he was funny and could get you to laugh but also get work done.
- Brianna: My great teacher was my 7th grade social studies teacher. He always had this very good, very calming energy. He was very understanding and he always loved his students and he showed us that he loved us.
Again, the point of these is insight: for you, for them. You could use these at the start of the semester like I did, or you could use them any other day of the semester for a change of pace.