In my last post, I went through the first National Board World Language Standard, which is all about the importance of knowing your students. This is a great Standard to revisit in September, when you’re still trying to know as much about your students as quickly as possible. In my next few posts, I’m going to share my favorite tools to learn as much as you can about your students, starting with the getting-to-know-you survey.
There are a ton of beginning-of-the-year student surveys out there, and I’m sure you have your own favorite version that you use to start the year. For me, there are three goals for giving out a student survey in Spanish class, and thus three types of questions you need to include. You want to learn: 1) who your students are and what they’re interested in, 2) their attitudes towards school and how they learn, and 3) their experiences and attitudes towards learning different languages and cultures. As long as you have a healthy mix of each category, you’ve got a winning student survey. Below, I share some of the questions I’ve used in each category over the years that give me the most information.
First, who are you?
With this category, I usually try to give probing questions beyond the standard “Tell me something interesting about yourself,” though I always include popular culture questions in this section (favorite book, TV show, movie, musical artist) just to pick up on trends and see if there is anything popular right now related to our target language and target culture. The most revealing and useful questions that I include are “I’m secretly really good at…”, “In ten years I want to…”, and “My family is…” I’m always surprised about a few kids who I thought I had pegged, and I usually find some fun passions to tap into later in the year when I’m designing instruction.
Second, how do you learn best?
This is when you capture a bit more about the students’ attitude towards school and learning. Beyond learning what their favorite class is and why, you want to know the things they love and dread about other classes and other teachers so that you can try to tailor to their needs. My favorite questions in this category are “I like teachers who…”, “The thing I’m least excited about this school year is…”, and “I wish all my teachers knew that I…” I’m always surprised by the thoughtfulness in my students’ responses to these types of questions. Every year I anticipate getting a lot of “I wish we had no homework and watched movies every day,” but most students genuinely do want you to know how they learn best.
Third, what language and culture experience are you bringing with you?
These questions are trying to tap into the different cultural experiences in the room. Beyond the ever important, “Why are you taking Spanish class?”, the most revealing questions for me in this category are “Do any members of your family speak languages other than English? Which ones? Where did they learn?” I also like to ask the questions “The furthest I’ve been from home is…” and “I’ve lived in the following places…” This starts to paint a picture of who has been exposed to which cultures. Usually I can figure out which kid to talk to about modern slang in the target language or who may have taken part in one of the cultural traditions we learn about in class. It also clues me into which parents to contact about being guest speakers or project judges. You can read more about the questions I include in my parent survey here.
Paper or Google Forms?
I’ve given student surveys on Google Forms and on paper, and despite my love of technology, for me these types of surveys are best completed on paper. It just feels more authentic seeing a kids’ handwriting or doodles or penchant for multiple exclamation points. I also love giving detailed feedback on these surveys to each kid to build common ground, and it feels more personal to do so by circling or underlining things I love instead of trying to do so in a typed up document.
Putting it into practice
To see how I normally present my student survey, you can preview the product on Teachers Pay Teachers here. If you’ve already given out a student survey for the year, you can always present some of these questions as an early finisher next time you give a test or quiz, or as a warm-up activity. I find it doesn’t matter what time of the year you try to get to know your students better; they usually love getting the chance to tell you something genuine about themselves. Hopefully some of these questions help you to learn something new about a kid you wouldn’t have found out otherwise.
So, what have I missed? Which questions do you love to include in your beginning-of-the-year survey? Hope your September is going great.