Friday, November 10, 2006

Memorizing students

I have 60+ students this quarter between my three discussion section. It's now week six of the quarter and I still only know a few student's names. I always have trouble memorizing the student's names, so this quarter I made a special effort. I took notes while everyone was introducing themselves the first week. I looked at people's pictures on facebook. I take attendance every week and try to match names and faces. It's getting embarrassing. I'm starting to want to explain to students that I have memory issues and I really am trying to learn their names. Maybe next quarter I need to take pictures of everyone and make student photo flash cards.

Also, I have a terrible time pronouncing unfamiliar Asian names. I normally spell everything phonetically and sound out unfamiliar words. It's like I have some sort of learning disability. I'm spelling challenged in English and have no experience with Asian languages.

I think I have to search the internet for advice, because I'm just culturally illiterate.

Then I'm extra confused because those same students sometimes want to be called by their American nick-names. The other day one of my students came up to me and asked for her paper, then she said, "Can I have my friend's paper too?"
So I said, "Sure what's your friend's name?"
"Jason," then continued, "Oh, it's something like, "xxxxx."

I don't like it when my pagan friends decide everyone has to call them by a special, magical name and suddenly I have to keep track of two different names for each person. I'm much more sympathetic when I comes to people Americanizing their names, because my RL name is very long and difficult. I can understand why someone might want to just have a name that everyone around them can pronounce, but it doesn't make it easy for me and my memory problems.

Remembering everyone's names seems important to me, a sign that I care about and respect my students. Constantly mispronouncing or forgetting their names makes me sad.


Dharma said...
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Dharma said...


Just be upfront at the beginning of term and say, I suck at remembering names but I remember *you*.

I am horrible at pronunciation. I think my ex-English professor mother is over the horror of it by now. I feel ya on this one.

Honeybee said...

I have a terrible memory for faces and I had 52 students in two lab sections. One thing that helped was that they sat in the same seats every week.

I passed out index cards the first day. One class got pink and orange, the other yellow and green. The colors helped me keep the two classes straight. I had them write their names, year in school, major, hometown and what they wanted to do "when they grew up". Then I used the cards to take attendance every week. The third week I went through the stack outside of class and marked all the cards that I couldn't put a face to. Next class I wrote down a little memory jog for those students "has weird glasses" or even "sits at the back left table". It helped a LOT.

I also asked them their name every time I spoke to them the first few weeks, if I couldn't remember it.
By the end there were only two or three I wasn't solid on and they all looked semi-alike to me.

As for pronouncing and the American name thing, the cards helped with which name they preferred, and I could write out the pronounciation phoenetically on them.

Sorry this comment was so long. At first I didn't think my system would work, but I still have the cards and I can still remember 85% of the faces to match.

Not sure what you can do at this point in the quarter other than apologize and ask them for reminders.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

What's been helping me is that I have all of my students use big nametags every week, in addition to the fact that they introduce themselves to the class every single week. It's been helping. (It also helps that this practise is even used for grad seminars in my department, and so I can clarify that they're getting the same treatment as grad students.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I have the same issues. I also make my students write up name cards the first week, and then I try and return them to them each week following and make a sort of game of how many I can return without asking who is who.

But after about week four it gets too embarrassing and the name cards mysteriously go missing :)

The other thing that kind of works for me (sometimes), is playing a dumb game on the first day where each student introduces themselves and says one really weird thing that starts with the same letter as their name ("My name's Sandra and I love surfing"). I can usually remember the thing about them ("You're the one who loves surfing") and that at least gives me the first letter as a clue. And if I can't get the name from there, the fact that I can say "Sorry, forgotten your name, but I know you like surfing." or "I know it starts with S" shows that I am at least TRYING.

Finally, to make that game even more effective, after each student says their name, you try and repeat all the ones that have gone so far ("Annie with the amber necklace, Dave who had duck for dinner, Sandra who loves surfing..."). Laughing at you when you screw up loosens the students up and it is very effective for remembering the names. The classes I have done this in have been ones where I have had almost no trouble with the names.

Anonymous said...

I'm bad with student names, too, but here's something that has really worked for me. On the first day, students make "nameplates" that have their first names only on them and then stand up in front of them on their desks. I collect them at the end of every class and then distribute them at the beginning of every class until everyone knows everyone else's name. I learn the names quickly because every day begins with me passing out the nameplates and also because during every meeting, I see each students' name in front of him/her during class. Students learn each others' names quickly, too, which helps keep discussions going better. Once everyone knows all the names, we stop using the nameplates. I usually have to use them for the first three weeks and then we're done with them. With difficult names, students often include phonetic spellings, as much for the other students as for me.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I love the nameplate idea. I have two large classes next semester and I think I'll use it.

I'm really bad with student names -- it is the end of the semester here and I'm still having trouble.