Using Name Tents throughout the year. Guest Post.

My blog stats in the month of August EXPLODE each year.  One post that is super popular this time of year is my Name Tents with feedback post encouraging you to spend time communicating with each and every student the first week of school.  If you’ve not read it yet, stop and do so before reading the rest of this post. Many of you have taken me up on giving students daily feedback the first week of school and send me photos and share your experiences with me.  Here are a few of my faves from the last few days.

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One reader who took me up on using name tents a year ago introduced herself to me at the NCTM national conference in DC in April and shared her experience.  On a whim I asked her to write it up and send it to me.  Four months later she did and I received the following in an email from her.  Check this out – Thank you to Erin Stenger for sharing her experience with name tents below.  

Erin’s Story….

As I soak up the highs and lows of last school year, I’ve found that building relationships with students had the most positive impact on my year.  Building relationships creates a classroom community that enables students to listen, learn, and do mathematics because they trust that I will be there to support and guide them.  

Last year, one of the “first day of school” activities that caught my eye was Sara Van Der Werf’s Name Tents.  (Thank you for sharing!!)  I used the activity each day for the first week and learned some neat things about my students.  Nic for example likes to go fishing, Athena has been to Iceland (wow!), Jack wanted to know when the first test was going to be, and Morgan was nervous about how she has done in math class before and if she will be able to handle Algebra 2.  I also quickly identified students who may have a hard time staying on task when I would open up a name tent to comment and it was blank. I found most students were honest and sincere. Sara’s name tent activity provided an outlet where students could ask me about who I was and how my class worked without announcing it to the whole class.   

One student who stood out was Selma when she wrote “I’m not good in Algebra and I hope this class changes that a lot.”  A few days later she wrote “Do you believe in me and that I can pass this class? Because I don’t.” Wow – talk about some math-failure baggage.  I replied as honestly as I could: “ I have no reason to believe otherwise. I believe every one of my students can learn math with practice and effort, including you.  Fresh class = fresh attitude. Keep me in the loop if you’re getting overwhelmed.”

Selma continued to work in class and participate but I knew I wasn’t seeing her full potential.  By winter break, she was not doing well. She avoided completing missing assignments because she hadn’t spent the time to learn material she had missed.  I pulled her name tent off my shelf and handed it back to her with my original comments highlighted and an additional comment, “You can do this.  Depends on how much you want to work for it.  Your choice.” I didn’t need to say anything else.  

Selma came in the next week with a fresh notebook and a fresh attitude.  I had built a relationship with Selma so she knew the following: 1) I believed she is capable of learning math in my class, 2) she received specific feedback to know what she needed to improve on, 3) she knew I was there to support her but that she had to take ownership of her work.  Selma came in a few times afterschool to learn material and make up her assignments. By the end of the year, Selma passed Algebra 2 and I hope she gained confidence in her ability to do mathematics.

I would highly encourage you to use Sara’s Name Tent activity your first week back, but I have one suggestion.  Pull them out in a few months and re-read them. Maya Angelou once said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”  Once you begin to know your students, you will be surprised at how open they are on that first week. The best time to lay a foundation for building relationships with students is when you can catch them being their most true and honest selves.  

THANK YOU Erin for sharing your story using name tents!  Thank you to every reader that shares their experiences with name tents with me.  I’ll add more ideas from other users below here soon.  Until then – have a great start to school everyone.  

Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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