21 February 2007

Bob: The power of student name tents

"Bob" is a computerized system to help you manage your class.

It is not easy to quickly scan the classroom and know every students' name and know if that particular student is doing well or not in your class. We usually know a few who are doing well and a few who are naughty but to know how all of them are doing without referring to our records is difficult.

I started using name cards, not like a "calling card" or "business card" but actually a sheet of paper with the student's name on it, when I was having trouble remember the students names. I have a few classes with 40-50 students in each one.

Without name cards I found I was pointing at students who were looking at me but not those who were not looking or I was calling on the students whose names I knew but consequently there were a certain group of students that didn't get called.

One way to deal with this is to call students from the roster and another way is to use name cards.


The name card is an A4 sheet of paper with the student's name and number on it. The name is printed on the lower half of the paper and it is folded over like a tent. Originally I had students write their names on the papers themselves using a marker. Now I print out their names using the computer printer and I am able to add a little data to the name card.

After using these name cards for awhile I wished I could look at my students and not only know their name but know how they were doing in my class. Are they one of the quiet ones who is doing great or are they slowly and quietly sinking in my class? Are they one of the ones who said they have trouble understanding my instructions or are they one of the ones who has asked me to speak faster and more native-like? I was already using "Bob" to help me keep track of how my students were doing.

So I altered the name cards to look like this:

Sue -- 21
Mark 17
John - 36

In the first case, I know his name is Sue and her number is 21. The double dash "--" means she is doing pretty well in my class and his scores on homework, quizzes, attendance and classroom participation all average out pretty high.

In the second case, I know Mark is number 17 and the absence of any dash means he is doing average in my class.

In the third case, I can see that John is number 36 and the single dash "-" means he is not doing so well.

This gives me a deeper understanding of my class. I can quickly throw very challenging questions to my upper level students. I can be more patient with my students who are struggling.

I use this dashing system of marking as it is not very conspicuous. For example, if I used stars as in grading a hotel as in a "five star hotel" it will seem more like a rating system and easy for students to compare each other. With my system the students are unaware that the dashes are indicators of their overall scores.


Optimizing the name cards a little further, I photocopied a 4-week Learner's Score Card on the other side of the paper. Each week, the students fill in the data about how they used English during the week. I can view this information as I walk around the class by picking up their name card and looking inside the folded area.

I can also check the information at the end of the 4-week period when their Learner's Score Card is completed and totaled. I'm not satisfied with my first effort at a Learner's Score Card as I don't think my questions were crafted carefully enough to give me the most useful data but I like the idea of getting maximum use out of the name card like this. I will certainly use some of the questions like:

In class last week,
Some things I learned:
Some things I didn't understand:
Some things I liked:
Some things I didn't like:
Some things I want to study:
Some things I need help with:
Outside of class last week:
I spoke English (where? to whom?):
I listened to English:
I read English:
I wrote in English:

I don't expect you to copy this name card idea as it won't fit all of your situations but perhaps some aspects of this idea might be helpful to deal with problems you face.

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