The first homework assignment of every school year for every student in each of my middle school math classes included a 9-question "interest inventory." This particular interest inventory is a self-assessment tool that invites students to reflect on their past experiences.
My students agreed that answering the 9 interest inventory questions was a nice change from the typical "What's your favorite this / that" survey, and I certainly had fun reading my students' responses! Straight away – at the very start of the school year – it is a very good way to get a bigger picture (even just a slightly bigger picture) of each student.
For teachers, the interest inventory can provide good initial information about student strengths and weaknesses. In fact, I think this questionnaire invited some students to talk with me in person about their strengths and interests, giving me even more information about learning styles.
Here is the 9-question inventory. I always asked students to answer all parts of each question, and to neatly write their answers in complete sentences.
1. What is your favorite activity or subject in school? Why? What is your least favorite? Why?
2. What subjects are difficult for you? What makes them the hardest?
3. If you could learn about anything you wanted to, what would you choose to learn about? Please be specific. (For example: meteorology, science fiction writing, architecture, cooking, carpentry, movie-making, etc.)
4. If people were to come to you for information about something you know a lot about, what would the topic be?
5. If you could plan a field trip, where would you go? Why?
6. Fill in the blank and rate EACH choice 1 = best, 2 = ok, 3 = worst
I learn ____ alone.
I learn ____ with one other person.
I learn ____ in a small group.
I learn ____ in a large group.
7. What helps you learn? (For example: hands on experience, reading quietly, taking notes, reading out loud, etc)
8. What projects – either past school assignments or outside of school – are you most proud of? Why?
9. Think of a great teacher you've had. Describe what made this teacher so terrific.
One student knew a lot about horses, and through the year gave me unsolicited tidbits of information (such as defining riding styles and saddles), and every once in a while updated me on her training and competitions. Getting to know her a little bit more outside the math classroom helped to engage her inside the math classroom.
Another student was proud of training her hamster, named El Noche, to win the local Petco Hamster Derby! I had to ask her about it because I had never heard of Petco Hamster Derbies. She happily described how she executed her training regimen in one of the hallways in her home.
The student who answered "I want to learn how to draw faces" is now a student at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. Without asking her at the start of the school year, I wonder how long it would have taken me to notice this very, very quiet student's inclination toward art … maybe in the spring of that year when we studied geometry and she told me that she like how I used different colors to help highlight specific angles, sides, etc.
Questions 3, 4, 5, and 8 always cave me the most smile-inducing answers. I used the 9 questions above for 6th graders, but in general all the questions are great reflection questions, requiring answers with much more relevant information than favorite colors / food / sports / etc.