>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.


>Bob: Effective student monitoring, formative & diagnostic assessments and differentiating instruction

>“Bob” is a computerized system to help you manage your class.

Different teachers have different ways to appeal to and win the hearts and minds of their students. Some teachers do it through the example of their professionalism, sometimes augmented by humor and love, and the confidence that the teacher is able to instill into their students that he will be able to take their English to a higher level.

But in large classes there are students who are slipping through the cracks. As you implied, how can they “focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions” rather than just, what I’ll call, “broadcast teaching”?

This past semester I was experimenting with Bob and have written about it before. [1] In a way, “Bob” is a computer system I’m using consisting of an Excel file and Visual Basic program. But it is more an extension or appendage of me as a teacher and many of the things I’m doing with my students. Technology isn’t running my classroom but I am using technology to help me do what I need to do easier and better.

I must say it has helped me keep track of my students ten times better than before I began to use it. Of course, I’m a bit absent minded and always have trouble remembering things, people, names, etc.

For people who are interested in this sort of thing you need to know what to do after you gain the ability to closely monitor each student. For example, built into the system you would have some Diagnostic and Formative Assessments.[1]

The next step is grouping the students or segmenting them. (Bob enabled me to develop the name cards I spoke of earlier.[2]) Then you can apply what they call “Differentiating Instruction” to better meet the needs of the students and their motivational triggers in a more individual way.[3]

I think most teachers teach to the middle level of the class. We don’t teach to the bottom students but we don’t teach to the top students either. We teach to the middle students. This is perhaps the normal effort of teachers. Teachers who make a greater effort may try to do something for students who are lagging. But there is also a significant number of students who are doing very well in our classes. If we don’t pay attention to their needs they will be stuck at an academic ceiling, possible boredom and lost opportunity to develop. We need to offer them a degree of more challenging work so they can climb higher than the class average to which we are teaching.

By effective use of available technology all of this is possible to the degree that I think you could manage 500 students.