Student Numbers

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Student number in both corners

I was talking with a group of teachers about how to help students remember to include their numbers with their names on assignments. I then shared this idea from another teacher.

Teacher (emailed suggestion):
I have my students write their numbers in both corners at the top of their assignments. It makes the numbers easy to see and speeds up collating quite a bit.

Later on, as I'm processing assignments, I put each checked paper into one of two piles. The pile on the left is for the papers that show an ordinary level of effort. The papers that go in the right pile are the ones that stand out as being examples of extra effort.

When I've checked all of the papers, I take the stack in the right pile and cut off the upper right-hand corners. These little triangles--which have the student numbers written on them--are dumped into a prize jar.

The next day, whenever I have time, I'll draw a corner from the container and announce the number. The student whose number was drawn is given a small reward. At the end of the week I empty the prize jar and we start over again on Monday. The triangles that are drawn but have no number just help to reinforce the importance of writing the number in the first place.

It's just one of the ways I show my appreciation for hard work.

Wow. Very cool.

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Student numbers and the hotel analogy

I was sharing the student number concept with a large group of teachers. And, since the majority of the group was comprised of secondary teachers, I was talking about the advantage of using three-digit numbers.

Showing a slide:
The advantage of using three-digit numbers is that the numeral in the hundred's column indicates the period number. The rest of the number is their student number within that period. This will help to keep the different groups of students distinguishable.

Although this was clear to me, it wasn't clear to one of the teachers in the group. (And it's very possible that it wasn't clear to many in the group. See "Remembering the numbers" entry below.) She approached me during the break for clarification. I explained it again as best I could which, apparently, still wasn't good enough.

Finally making sense of my rather lame explanation:

Oh, kind of like a hotel with different floors, huh?

Little light bulb going off:
Wow! That's a great way to think about it.

Well, I'm an English teacher and math has never been a strong subject for me. When you started talking three-digit numbers, I kind of shut down. I asked a friend sitting next to me for his thought. While he was explaining it his way, I came up with the hotel analogy. I just wanted to verify with you that my thinking was clear. Thanks.

Oh, yeah. Your thinking was clear. It's so clear that I've decided to make it a part of the explanation from now on.

In fact, I shared the hotel explanation the next night to a middle school teacher who had heard me present the student number program before.


Middle School Teacher
Seeing it clearly for the first time:
Oh, man. That's makes so much sense. I was a bit confused the first time you talked about the different groups of numbers for the different periods. That hotel idea is a great way to present it.

Over twenty years of presenting seminars and I'm still learning new ways to explain ideas. That's both depressing--I thought I had been doing a good job of explaining ideas--and exciting--I'm now in possession of a better visual for the whole secondary teacher/student number thing.


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Remembering the numbers

Teacher (during a seminar break):
My students are having a hard time remembering their numbers. There's a bit of a turn-over issue with students coming and going, but still it's not been easy. What should I do?

My first response was to ask whether he taught elementary or secondary. When he said that he taught middle school, his concern made sense. Having to deal with six sets of numbers is going to be more challenging than working with just one set of numbers.

Trying to be helpful:
Did you post the names and numbers in your room?

Teacher: Oh, yeah. (Forehead slap.) I forgot all about that part. Thanks. That will help a lot.

Something else to bear in mind is that the students are supposed to be doing most of the assignment processing for you which means that they will also be doing most of the student number tasks for you. Asking them to collate sets of assignments will not only involve them in running the classroom but will eliminate the need for the teacher to have to deal with the student--or six--who neglected to write his number on his assignment. The student workers will take care of this for you.

No number? No sweat. The student knows to look at the class roster and write the missing number on the assignment himself. Problem solved. And one less thing for the already overworked teacher to deal with.

A second thought has to do with patience and trust. You're going to be using student numbers all year long. There's no rush to attain perfection right away. That would be unrealistic.

Instead, keep your eyes on the horizon. Anticipate a better future for you and your students. These kinds of long-term thoughts will help you to deal with those initial feelings of panic when the numbers don't click immediately.

It's going to be one of those "live with it" things before it all begins to work smoothly. However, by month two, I think you'll find that student numbers are working much better for you and your students than they were in week one.

Trust the power of student numbers. Trust yourself to make them work.



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