Immersion at Home: Tarea en Vivo

One of the challenges in the remote learning era is to get kids engaged with language in an authentic way. Usually we are giving them lots of input in class, but it’s hard to provide that immersive environment when students are at home. A way I’ve tried to extend my Spanish classroom in the past is by giving out a huge list of “real world” choice homework assignments for them to complete throughout the grading period.

The basic idea is to give kids a a bunch of things they can do to interact with authentic language and authentic resources in a very real way. I tried to put together a ton of no-teacher-prep, short assignments dealing with real shopping, radio, TV, retail, travel, and music websites from Spanish-speaking countries. You can steal a free a copy of the instructions and list of assignments I gave my students here, which I adapted from Sara-Elizabeth’s post on choice homework here and Creative Language Class’ post on Real World Homework here. (As someone once told me, teachers are the best “borrowers.”)

In terms of grading and choice, you can give out varying “points” for the difficulty of each assignment. A one-point assignment would be to put vocabulary Post-it notes on ten items around the house. A five-point assignment would be to make a cooking video from a recipe you got off of a Spanish-language blog.  For my students, I told them they needed to turn in three points total each week. They could do three one-point assignments one week and a five-point assignment and a one-point assignment for two weeks, but they needed to average three points a week. 

As I wrote in my first post on distance learning, an important thing about this type of assignment is the idea of “proof.” When I introduced Tarea en Vivo to my students, I was  very upfront with them about how completing these assignments would be done on the honor system, and that I was aware some assignments would be easier to “fudge” than others. They had to write a couple of sentences about what they did and learned, and they had to provide a picture, video, or screenshot of them completing the activity (these were often super fun to see!! I usually got a kick out of them). They also could not repeat any assignment during a nine-week grading period.

Overall, Tarea en Vivo did succeed in getting my students interacting with language in a very real way, and it was always fun for me to see them engaging in real world Spanish outside of class. The drawback was that it was logistically challenging to grade, so I ended up having students be very clear with keeping track of their points explicitly in the report they turned in each week. I also wasn’t super nitpicky about grammar and vocab errors; I just graded for proficiency and completion.

Even if you don’t use Tarea en Vivo as a full-on choice homework framework, hopefully the ideas and activities presented on this list will jump start your brain on activities you can offer as enrichment while students are at home. Good luck!

Presentational activities when times are tough

As I write this post, Virginia has just announced that all schools will be closed until the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. My heart goes out to all of you, particularly those of you with seniors who are going through their own particular type of heartbreak. Thank you for all that you do to help those kids navigate this crazy, difficult, anxious time.

One of the gifts of being a language teacher is that we are giving kids the tools they need to connect with others and express themselves in new ways. Some of you are being asked to soldier through offering curriculum remotely, and some of you are basically being told to upload optional busywork without teaching anything new at all. No matter where you are, I hope you continue to use the skills you have to get your kids to connect and to express themselves, two activities we all could use right now. Here are two presentational activities that I’ve used for this purpose in the past that you could tweak for quarantine learning.

Differentiated Free Write

Whenever our school went through an uncertain or unusual time, I’d offer time at the beginning of class for a free-write. I’d tell them translators were not allowed, so we’d be working on pen and paper. They could write about absolutely anything they wanted, as long as they kept it in Spanish (usually I’d offer a few prompts related to our current material in case they had “nothing to write about”). If, during the course of their writing, they absolutely needed a word that they didn’t know in Spanish, I’d tell them to write that word in English in the margins and keep their writing momentum going. They’d get time to look up their words later. I’d set the clock (usually 10 minutes), give them a Spanish word count (for my lower levels 25-50) and let them ride.

As you can imagine, the results would be all over the map. You’d get a kid having a tough day who would vent in English and then write a list of 20 Spanish words at the end. You’d get a kid writing beautiful Spanish poetry that made me cry. But the free write was all about getting them to push their boundaries, test new language, build connections, and get their thoughts on paper. Give them some amazing, heartfelt feedback to encourage that vulnerable language creation, and you’re building a connection that they (we all!!) desperately need right now.

Six-word memoir

One of my favorite projects for self-expression is the six-word memoir, which I wrote about in a post here. The basic premise is that kids write an illustrated story of their life in exactly six words. It’s a project that gets kids producing language in their most creative, authentic way. You could definitely tweak it during this crazy time as well, have them talk about their memoir on Flipgrid, or simply upload all the final products to a Slide deck for them to share and comment on (or even write their guess for who wrote what and why!). It’s a project that I use at the beginning or end of the year, and the whole goal is to build connections and get kids expressing themselves authentically. I recommend it as a feel-good, non-curriculum project that you could do remotely during this hectic time. See the post for more specifics.

Hang in there

This is a time of sacrifice and inconvenience for us all, a time of crisis for many. Continue to be the light for your kids that they love you for and need you to be. We’ve got this.

xoxo

The Remote Proficiency-Based Classroom: Interpersonal

In my previous post I shared some tips for activating the interpretive mode for your students when you need to teach online. For today, I’m going to take a stab at the virtual interpersonal mode.

Let’s start by saying that getting students to engage in the interpersonal mode online is by far the most difficult of the three conversational modes. As you know, interpersonal communication demands that the student engage in some level of conversation or interaction that requires spontaneous language production. When you get into an asynchronous conversation like text messaging or writing a pen pal, you get time to craft and edit your response, and it becomes almost presentational. All that being said, I’m going to share one example of how a typed interpersonal conversation could work on a simple Google Doc. 

Google Doc Guided Conversations

I’ve had students maintain free-write blogs before, and they had to post and answer a certain number of questions in the comments of each other’s posts every week. This was a good way to get them using question words, engaging in each other’s work, and reacting in some way to each other’s language. There are a number of ways you could accomplish a similar task without going through the rigamarole of getting students to start up a brand-new shiny class blog (remember from the first post in this series: now is not the time to go crazy introducing new technology!)

One easy way to get students engaging in a back and forth could be to let them loose on a Google Document. Have a pair or a group of students assigned to the same Google Doc, have each student write with their own distinctive font or color, and give them guidance for having a “conversation” similar to the guidance you would give them if you were directing a conversational activity in class.

Let’s say you wanted to students to engage with each other on a topic such as, “How is the corona virus changing your daily routine?” One way to get them going would be to have them to come up with three questions they could ask one another about their current daily lives, turned into you for a formative assessment. You collect the answers, then you could edit the list and send it out to everyone to use as anchors during their Google Doc conversation (thus creating ownership and buy-in when students see their own questions on the list). In pairs or small groups, you have them write back and forth on a Google document, requiring them to converse back and forth for, say, one page. You could even put a time limit on this activity, ensuring that they don’t fret over grammar and spelling mistakes, and that they are generating language as spontaneously as possible.

You’d use a pretty lenient proficiency-based rubric to grade an activity like this, but set the expectation that ANY use of online translators would not be tolerated. Remind them that you can easily see if a student merely copies and pastes their writing by looking at the document editing history, and that the penalties for using an online translator are very high, while the penalties for making mistakes in grammar or spelling are pretty low. You’re just trying to get them to engage in a back and forth. 

Other Interpersonal Ideas

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Flipgrid as a possibility here. You aren’t quite interacting in a spontaneous way, but it at least gets students actually speaking and listening to one another, which is NOT something they are able to do with a typed conversation on a Google Document. Having a Flipgrid activity in addition to a timed, typed interpersonal activity like the one I just outlined would help you to activate speaking and listening skills, and also get the spontaneous conversational skills working as well. Flipgrid is also not a very difficult tool to introduce if you’ve never used it before. I recommend Maris’ post here if you need an introduction to how Flipgrid works.  

Others have mentioned the possibility of using Google Hangouts or Google Meet, which you can also use to record videos (see Kara’s post on this topic here). If this is an option for you, you could set-up and monitor small group discussions with your students to get them conversing, but I more like the idea of using Google Meet or Edpuzzle for input rather than trying to go through the logistical nightmare of organizing multiple Google Hangout sessions with multiple groups of kids all day long (if you have tips for making something like this work, please share!) 

Interpersonal communication in a remote-learning scenario is not going to be perfect, but there are definitely ways to try to get around the challenges. Good luck making it work for your students, and please don’t hesitate to share additional ideas in the comments below!

 

The Remote Proficiency-Based Classroom: Interpretive

While many of us hunker down to teach through the COVID-19 outbreak, I’m sharing some low-prep strategies for trying to teach a proficiency-based classroom remotely. My previous post goes through some general tips taken from years of teaching in a tech-heavy classroom. This post will focus on getting kids focused on the interpretive mode remotely.

As you know, when we’re talking about interpretive, we’re wanting to focus in on kids’ ability to decipher a written text or a spoken word. As I alluded to in my last post, the key with interpretive activities is to get students to engage with the material in different ways and, more essentially for online learning, submit the proof that they’ve done so. Many times you end up feeling like you have to come up with comprehension questions that are specific to each resource, reading, or video, which is a great way to ensure students are engaged and getting the information you want out of the material, but preparing those activities can be incredibly time-consuming. Below are a couple of ideas that get students producing in the language, but don’t require nearly as much upfront work on your end.

Choice Boards

A great one-size-fits-all, low-prep way to do this is to use Spanish Mama’s free, editable bellringers. Because they saved me so much prep-time, and gave students variety and choice, I used these to start every single class period, every single day, for years. She’s got a tic-tac-toe choice board of activities that you can use with a video, a song, or a reading, and you can use them for anything from an authentic music video that’s hard to understand to a comprehensible, level-appropriate reading (Sidenote – if you need reading material, I love El Mundo en tus Manos for comprehensible current events articles, and last year’s editions are on sale for $10)

The great thing about these bellringer boards is that they offer students CHOICE. You could post the reading or video of the day, and have them complete three activities of their choice for that particular resource, submitting the proof of each activity online. If you’re going to be doing this everyday during remote learning, you could have them complete a board every three days, so they aren’t picking the same three activities for each resource every time. Offering students choice always helps with engagement and buy-in, so try to offer it to them when you can.

Free Write / Free Speak Response

When you’re dealing with novice learners, asking them to do something like “summarize the video” or “reflect on this article” can be incredibly intimidating. Beyond using the activities listed on the choice boards above, I also had some pretty great success with a word-limit free write.

For our level-one novices, I would show an authentic video, and then have them write a 15 word reaction to the video WITHOUT USING ANY ONLINE TRANSLATORS. This would often make them scream in protest, so you have to be VERY deliberate in outlining realistic expectations. Remind them that as novices, they likely are only going to be producing language in words, phrases, or VERY simple sentences. “Me gusta el video” is four words. “La chica es rubia” is four words. Writing the phrase “blanco y negro” for a black and white video is three words. Writing the phrase “Enrique Iglesias muy guapo” is four words. And boom. You have fifteen novice-appropriate words.

For this assignment, I’d use a proficency-based rubric so that for more advanced students, you will encourage them to produce in more complicated language with a higher word-limit goal. You can have students respond to a video or a reading by submitting a “free write” online or a “free speak” using an online tool like Vocaroo or Flipgrid. If you’re really only focused on the interpretive mode, you don’t need to get super persnickity with grading either. Just use it as a tool to keep them honest, and remind them they cannot use any online translators. I would take off crazy points if they threw weird translator language at me, so it’s helpful to make this type of assignment one where general mistakes with grammar and spelling are pretty low stakes. You want to reward them for engaging with that awesome authentic resource you spent hours powering through pinterest to find; not play grammar police.

Speaking of, how awesome is this infographic on activities for when you’re in quarantine?

I hope this post gets you jumpstarted on some low-prep ideas to engage students in the interpretive mode when you have to teach online. Stay tuned for some additional posts coming on going remote in the interpersonal mode and the presentational mode.

The Remote Proficiency-Based Classroom

Like in much of the world, many of the public schools across Virginia are embarking upon a few weeks of unforeseen online teaching. Beyond trying to manage the corona virus panic, it can be very intimidating to try to figure out how to teach a proficiency-based language class remotely when the entire point of our instruction is to get kids engaged and speaking to one another. For that reason, I wanted to gather some ideas and strategies for getting students producing in the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes online.

Before I dive in with some specific strategies and activities you can use, I encourage you to check out Maris’s post about teaching online that comes from her experience in a blended learning classroom. She has a lot of information about useful (and free!) technology tools, and some general tips and guidelines that I’ve also found to be true during my experience teaching in a technology-heavy environment. The most salient points for me from her post are:

  • Be specific with your instructions: As with any lesson, the difference between a great lesson and a disaster lesson all comes down to clear communication of your expectations. Which leads us to our next point…
  • A great rubric is essential: I am a huge fan of adapting the single-point rubric for proficiency, and providing a very well-outlined checklist of the exact components you’re looking for in the assignment.
  • Require proof by production: In Maris’s words, “don’t watch a video and be done.” Have students prove they engaged with the video by demanding they produce language in response in a very specific way (more on that in my next post). If you’re having them engage in online practice tools like Quizlet or DuoLingo, make sure you demand that screenshot proving they actually did the work.
  • Don’t lower your standards for engagement: If you aren’t a worksheet teacher in class, you don’t have to be a worksheet teacher online. There are tons of practice websites you can give them access to if you want them to drill verbs, but before you go too far down that route, know that there are options for helping your students to really engage with the language beyond the “online worksheet.”
  • Take baby steps with new tech tools: I completely agree with Maris that now would be a very difficult time to start using something like Peardeck or Seesaw. Students are going to have enough reasons to throw their hands up in the air and say that this remote learning thing is totally pointless. You don’t want them to become discouraged from engaging with your material because they’re intimidated by a new technology platform, especially if you aren’t going to be there the next day to go through it with them. Try to take baby steps with new technology when you can.

With those tips in mind to ground us, let’s dive in with strategies for getting students engaged in our three modes of proficiency. Up first: Interpretive.

Teacher Proficiency in the Target Language

Reading up on the second National Board World Language Standard has got me with teacher proficiency on the brain. If you’re a native speaker of the language you teach, obviously this is a non-issue for you. I studied Spanish in school for eight years and then went to teach English in Chile for a semester and realized I barely spoke Spanish. Here are some of the things I’ve done (from the easiest to most difficult) to get and keep my Spanish proficiency level high.

1) Netflix

This is a passive input activity that allows me to tell myself I’m being productive while shamelessly devouring shows online. Honestly Netflix has produced a ton of high-quality content in Spanish in the last couple of years that far surpasses the old Univision/Telemundo novelas (though I still have love for those as well). To get more input bang for my buck, I do usually watch these shows with Spanish subtitles on. As far as what to watch: my all-time fave is Gran Hotel. I’ve also enjoyed Casa de Papeles, Alta Mar, Ingobernable, and Chicas del Cable. I will say, however, that El Ministerio del Tiempo is such a nerdy Spanish teacher’s DREAM. It’s basically a show about time-traveling to hang out with every awesome Spaniard throughout history. Not quite appropriate to show students but so perfect for the former-AP student in each of us.

2) Using an e-reader

Much as I use practicing Spanish as an excuse to watch soaps, I use my Kindle Spanish-English dictionary as an excuse to indulge in beach-read fiction. Download a free Spanish-English dictionary onto your Kindle, and every book in Spanish becomes a perfect vocabulary building partner. Every time you come across a word you don’t know, you can highlight it and get the definition in English. It’s amazing. I usually will have one Dan Brown or Outlander novel in Spanish loaded on my Kindle just so I feel semi-productive killing time.

3) Podcasts

I feel like the quality of podcasts in general goes up every week. My two favorite Spanish-language podcasts are Radio Ambulante and Ted en Español. If you’ve found others you love, please share them in the comments. If I’m headed to a professional situation in which I’m going to be using Spanish with native speakers, I always play one of these in the car on the way there just to switch my brain over. Cult of Pedagogy and We Teach Languages are also great (English-language) podcasts for professional development, especially when there is crossover between the two!

4) Colleagues

The colleagues in my department at school fell into the habit early of only communicating with each other in Spanish. Half of us were native speakers and half of us were not, but it ended up being easier to just use Spanish all of the time for those situations in which you don’t exactly want your students to understand everything you’re saying. The fact that half of us were native speakers also helped us to hold each other accountable and kept our Spanish going at the highest level. There’s nothing to help you learn how to give students encouraging language feedback like being on the receiving end of some on a daily basis.

5) Volunteering

I found a great organization in my community that helps immigrants from Latin America transition to life in our city. I imagine in this day and age most communities in the United States have such an organization. For a couple of years I helped out with their college and career bound program, which helps young teens learn about options for applying to college and steps they need to take to achieve success in college and beyond. Some of these kids spoke very little English. One of my goals for learning Spanish in the first place was being able to help people in my community, and for me, sitting in front of person who really needs your help and is depending on you to communicate helps your trepidation with practicing your Spanish evaporate very quickly.

6) Travel

Of course, if we had all the time and money in the world, we’d do some teacher immersion travel every chance we could. I had a great experience in Central America with Common Ground International (I wrote more about that experience here). I know a few friends who have done phenomenal programs in Spain. Anytime you can link up with a student travel program and watch some of your students have their minds blown abroad is also exciting. If you need to prep for a test like the OPI, indulging in a teacher trip that helps you practice your language is definitely a good investment. I thank my time with Common Ground International for helping me score Advanced on my OPI test for sure.

Of all of these, the methods for sharpening my proficiency that I come back to the most are of course the more passive ones that sub in for activities I already do – turning on Ministerio del Tiempo instead of The Office, listening to Ted en Espanol during my morning commute, speaking Spanish to my co-worker instead of just dropping to English. Every little bit helps.

I’d love to hear more about the things you do to keep your proficiency level high. Any good Netflix shows or podcasts you’d recommend? Please share!

NBCT Standard 2: Knowledge of Language

As part of our deep dive into the first National Board World Language Standard (Knowledge of Students), I’ve spent the last few posts focusing on different ways to gather and leverage information about students. Today we’re going to move on to Standard 2: Knowledge of Language (pages 22-24 here). First, the standard statement:

Accomplished teachers of world languages function with a high
degree of proficiency in the languages they teach. They understand
how languages and cultures are intimately linked, understand the
linguistic elements of the languages they teach, and draw on this
knowledge to set attainable and worthwhile learning goals for their
students.

Standard 2 is where the National Board holds us accountable to practice what we preach in terms of our own language learning. This is not easy, and NBCT does not let us off the hook. To become a National Board Certified Teacher, we are required as language teachers to prove that we maintain an Advanced language proficiency level in our target language by submitting ACTFL certificates with ratings of Advanced Low or higher on both the speaking and writing assessments. (More on my tips for passing these tests in a future post).

In addition to requiring that we are Advanced speakers of the languages we teach, this Standard requires that we do, in fact, use the language beyond the walls of our classroom. It asks us for proof of the ways we use the language in authentic contexts, whether in our community or through travel abroad. Accomplished teachers read, write, listen to, and speak their target languages as often as possible, authentically as possible, just as we ask our students to do when we are in class.

In addition to asking for proof of proficiency and language use, this standard devotes an entire section to knowledge of how language works. It briefly mentions a knowledge of linguistics before moving onto knowledge of how the language fits together in different cultural and geographical contexts. For Spanish teachers, this means that we are well-aware of the many different dialects and are able to teach the differences between the slang in Madrid and Mexico City. This is also the first time the modes of language are mentioned: we should understand and be able to teach the importance of the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes.

This standard, for me, is the first time National Board really requires you to hold yourself accountable to a higher level. If you aren’t a native speaker of the language you teach, it demands that you practice what you preach in terms of lifelong language learning, which is something that goes well beyond the usual duties of your classroom. In the next few posts, I’m going to share my tips for staying on top of your language learning game, and also my advice for passing the ACTFL speaking and writing assessments.

What are your favorite ways to maintain your Advanced proficiency level? Share your favorite teacher language practice activities below!

Post-Unit Reflection Form

As part of our deep dive into the first National Board World Language Standard, I’ve talked in two of my last posts about the student and parent surveys I use to gather up information about students at the beginning of the year. The weakness of those types of surveys is that they are generally one and done. A tool I’ve used to gather information about students throughout the year is the post-unit reflection form.

The post-unit reflection is a survey that I give after our summative assessment at the end of each unit. This is what the kids work on after they turn in their assessments. Usually given as a Google Form, it has three parts:

1) Where do you think you are based on our learning objectives?

In the first section I ask students to rate themselves on the can dos for the unit they just finished (as a self-post-assessment) and on the can dos for the next unit (as a self-pre-assessment). I ask them to rate themselves on a sliding scale: I can’t do this at all yet; I can only do this with a lot of help from my notes; I can do this pretty easily, maybe with a little help from my notes; I can do this and teach someone else how to do it. Doing this keeps kids focused on the things they are, in fact, learning how to do, and they get a sneak peek of the things they’ll be learning how to do next. I find it keeps all of us honest and focused on what our goals are.

Also, giving out this survey as a Google Form gives you a lot of very specific data about each objective and each student. There’s a ton you can do with it. You can see the trouble spots from the unit you just finished that you’ll need to integrate more practice on, and you’ll see the goals that kids are already familiar with for the next unit. You can also pick up on the outlier students: who is struggling and needs to come in for extra help, and which students you can tap to help out the kids who are having trouble. You also might pick up on kids who aren’t giving themselves enough credit; if a student self-evaluates way lower than what you know they can do, it gives you an opportunity to give them a little pep talk.

2) Let’s reflect on how you’re learning.

The second part of the survey contains a few metacognitive questions. I’ll ask which activities helped them learn the most and the least for that particular unit. Sometimes I’ll do this as a multiple choice question listing the main learning activities for that unit and sometimes I’ll just keep it open-ended. This is a huge help for me to check in with them about which tools and lessons are working and which aren’t so that I can adjust my practice accordingly.

I’ll also ask each kid to tell me what they’ve done well this unit and what they want to improve upon for next unit. Usually I do this by asking them to think about the goal they had for learning Spanish at the beginning of the year. With that goal in mind, I’ll ask them what they did well on the way to their goal and what they could do better. This helps me to celebrate everyone’s successes and also gives everyone a chance to grow, going into that growth mindset message that no matter where they are grade-wise, there’s something they’re doing well and something more they could be doing.

3) What information do you want me to know?

In the last section I’ll include a couple open ended questions like “What is the most important thing you’d like me to know about you today?” or “What comments or concerns do you have about Spanish class this month?” You’ll get answers like “I’m stressed about soccer tryouts” or “I really hated that project we did last week.” Not every comment is going to be positive, but you’ll be learning a lot about your kids and your instruction as you go through this exercise.

Concluding thoughts

I find the post-unit reflection to be a very useful pause for me and my students to self-evaluate. For the students, it gives them a chance to reflect on their learning and keep our learning objectives in mind. For me, it helps me to keep my finger on the pulse of how my kids are feeling and to know how to better tweak my instruction moving forward. If you’d like to adapt this practice for your own classroom, you can make a free copy of an editable Google Form template here.

Recommended Listening

This is a quick mini blog post to say that the little language teacher nerd in me was so happy today listening to Cult of Pedagogy’s Jennifer Gonzalez interviewing everyone’s fave French teacher, Rebecca Blouwolff. I strongly recommend you take some time this week to listen to this delightful podcast episode about the modern world language classroom.

Rebecca is such an honest, enthusiastic, articulate ambassador for proficiency-based language teaching, and listening to the real world examples from her classroom is so inspiring. I loved hearing how she makes her communicative goals relevant with e-pals, how she has to get permission from her students to speak in English, how she turned her standard free time unit into a unit about sleep and screentime because that was super relevant to her specific students. She’s also got an outstanding corresponding blog post full of top-notch resources backing up the best practices she outlines in the podcast. Genius!

I could gush all day, but I hope you’ll play the conversation next time you’re in your car or doing dishes or on a run or just sitting on the couch chilling because you deserve it. It brought me a lot of joy and inspiration, and I hope it does for you too!

Parent Survey Questions

In my last post, I talked about my favorite student survey questions to better get to know your kids. I’ve still got student knowledge on the brain (from our deep dive into NBCT Standard 1), and one of the best sources of information for students is, of course, their parents. Today I’m going to share with you a bit about what I include in my Parent Survey for Spanish class. I usually distribute a Google Form in four parts:

First, how do I get in touch with you?

I know every school has a million different ways to gather parental contact information, but I always include it on my survey so that I have the most up to date information all gathered in one place. I also make sure to ask communication preferences – e-mail or phone? This helps me communicate more effectively throughout the year.

Second, tell me more about your kid.

In my last post I talked about using a student survey to get to know a kids’ basic interests, how they learn, and their language learning experience. I ask questions of parents from all three of these categories. Some examples are:

  • What is the most important thing you want me to know about your student?
  • What are your student’s strengths?
  • What are some areas you’d like to see your student improve in?
  • What is your student genuinely passionate about?
  • What are your student’s feelings about school? About Spanish class?
  • What would you like me to know about your student’s previous experience learning a language?

Some parents are more forthcoming than others in this section, but usually I’ll gather up a few great gems of knowledge that I’d otherwise never have.

Thirdly, what is your family’s experience with Spanish?

In this section, I’m trying to get some more information about students’ cultural backgrounds so that I can make connections that keeps Spanish relevant in class, but I’m also shamelessly trying to recruit guest speakers to use throughout the year. You never know which parents may have experience with Spanish that you can bring into the classroom as a speaker or as a real life judge for a PBL project. I’ll ask if parents use Spanish in their personal or professional life, and if they’ve ever lived in or traveled extensively to a Spanish speaking country. This also helps me to make connections in class when we’re talking about cultural celebrations and customs. I’m more aware of the kids in the room who have actually experienced them.

Lastly, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about Spanish class.

The last section basically reads like a terms of use document, wherein I make parents check off that they understand certain things about Spanish class. I talk about expectations for language use in class, grading and absence policies, homework volume, etc. I briefly mention that the class will be conducted in Spanish and that students will be supported based on their proficiency level. This reinforces the idea of a proficiency-based classroom that I introduce at back-to-school night. As in all walks of life, I find that it helps to manage expectations up front so no one is surprised about what’s going on in class.

Benefits of a parent survey

Using a survey like this one helps me to make sure that the first contact I make with a parent isn’t a negative one. Of course you’ve got to make an attempt to briefly reach out to a parent who took the time to give you all of the information you asked for, which is time-consuming, but I find it starts the parent-teacher relationship off on a good footing.

Whereas I love giving student surveys on paper in order to capture more of their personality, parent surveys seem to be more effective with an online tool like Google Forms. There are different levels of parental involvement, and with an online form, parents can either quickly click through a form and type as much or as little as they want in each section. If you think you’d like to set up your parent survey similarly, an editable Google Form copy of my parent survey is available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers here.

What did I miss? Any questions you like to ask your parents at the beginning of the year?