Today’s guest blogger is Justin Staub, social studies teacher at the Downingtown STEM Academy. This article was originally published on his blog and is reposted here with permission.
As a classroom teacher now in my 12th year, I know learning student names is difficult for me. I also know I get very nervous speaking in front of groups, unless I know the audience. So, the quicker I learn the names of students each year, the more comfortable I feel. I suspect the students feel the same way; the quicker I learn their names, the more comfortable they feel.
Some teachers are fabulous at learning student names. I am not!!! I realized I learn names best from repetition, usually from passing back papers. For me sometimes, this does not occur until the second week of school. Until then, I am sunk. To practice repetition, I am trying something different this year. My online gradebook has photographs of most of my incoming students. Why not use this to study… but how? As a student, I practiced mindless repetition through studying index cards (i.e., large amounts of Latin vocabulary or Geometry theorems). I could do the same with student names, since I have the photographs.I have decided to use an iOS app for flipcards and make a study game out of my students’ names and faces. I reviewed Quizlet, StudyBlue, and Flashcards+ by Chegg against three criteria. It had to be free; it had to allow me to add pictures to cards; and it must allow me to “hide” cards I knew and only practice those I did not know. I found Flashcards+ by Chegg to do all three.
In the Chegg app, you can create your own deck(s) or import common study criteria (great for other classroom applications). I put all of my students into one deck, not a separate deck for each class period. I wanted to make my memorization more challenging, but I also wanted a way to keep the students separated by class. So, I put student pictures on one side of the card and student names + period number on the other side. The Flashcard+ app allows me to sort and practice cards with “period 5” on them (though I just typed “5”). So, I can still practice all the names or just those of a certain class.The process of using the Flashcard+ app (or any of the others really) does have drawbacks.
Mobile-only setup. In all three cases, I could only set up pictures on cards on the iOS app. This meant I had to save the student pictures to my camera roll, then upload them into the app. This was very tedious. I wanted to create a database in Google Sheets then import (or copy) the data into the app. None of the apps I reviewed let me do this with pictures (text only? yes.). The mobile-only set up is a drawback as I am quicker with this sort of work on a computer rather than a tablet or phone.
Laborious. The setup was not smooth. I have four classes of new students (the fifth class is a returning class of seniors who I already know). Setting up four classes of students took me about two hours on my phone. If not for my extreme handicap learning names, this might have been too long.
Missing faces. Yes, if students move into the district or were for some reason were absent from picture day, their faces will not appear. I have six such cases in my entire roster of students.
Errors. I am sure there are database errors for names of faces or typing errors on my end (hopefully nothing more than a misspelled name). This issue is problematic in any system and should not keep you from setting up electronic flash cards.So, what do I hope to gain from two hours of set-up labor? I should know all my students’ names on the first day of school. Measure that however you will, but I think it will be awesome.
So far, after an hour of “studying”, I know 85% of the names! I was going to struggle for a week (or two) to know some names; now I will be better prepared. What an impression to make! Greet your students at the door with a smile, a handshake, and a correct greeting! For me, the setup was very long, but I will reap huge rewards from this work. Good luck and enjoy your new school year.