Student Survey Questions

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.

 

 

My First Blog Post Since Becoming a Mom

Happy August everyone! I hope that those of you who have started up the school year are enjoying these first weeks of getting to know your new kids. I don’t have any new First Day of School content this year (though you can scroll through my First Day Prep series starting here), but my teacher brain is definitely yawning and stretching itself back to life in the face of back-to-school sales and a slight (SLIGHT) hint of crisp in the morning air, one that quickly dissipates and makes way for some very heavy Virginia humidity. It is definitely still summer around here!

My last twelve months have been focused on becoming a mom! Our smiley son Augie (David Augustine!) is about to be six-months-old (born March 2!), which is completely insane. It seems simultaneously as if we’ve known him forever and we left the hospital with him last weekend. He still doesn’t have the sleep thing down, but he’s good for a laugh and a snuggle and generally making your heart melt. We are definitely in that place where you feel so happy and lucky that all you can do is be grateful and try not to take it for granted.

Becoming a working mother has been its own transition, one that I could probably write about for weeks, but I will spare you and suffice it to say that I love my job, I love my kid, I love my ridiculously supportive husband, and I finally almost feel like a functional human again. Enough that I was recently exploring a new volunteer opportunity where I could have the potential to work with teenagers for the first time in a while. And honestly, it’s like the Spanish teacher side of my brain woke up and has been annoying me ever since. It’s crazy how being a teacher is something that just becomes a part of you, no matter where you are in life. I still genuinely love my professional development work and am hopeful that I am getting better at it every day, but I didn’t realize how much I missed being in the classroom with kids until the possibility presented itself, albeit in a volunteer capacity.

When I got home after my volunteer meeting, my feet found themselves walking up the steps to our attic to dig through a bag of old school files until I found my trusty National Board certification binder. For some reason starting with the flagship standards of teaching just seemed like the thing to do.

To put this into context, my last year teaching, I embarked on the NBCT journey and was obsessed with the quality of the professional development and the way it forced me to examine my craft. There are many insights I gained during that time that I still actively use on a daily basis when designing my instruction for a professional audience. Although I switched jobs before I was able to complete my first NBCT component, I still have all the materials representing a LOT of work I did getting ready for the process.

Because I have the teaching itch (or at least the teacher blog itch), I’m going to work my way through the National Board standards. My hope is that they inspire some blog post content, refresh my own instructional design process after maternity leave, and give this teacher part of my brain an additional outlet. Stay tuned for a few National Board related posts as I get the creative juices flowing. Hopefully they’ll help out those of you considering the NBCT plunge, and help the rest of you keep some rock solid standards at the forefront while your school year starts. Happy August folks!

La Tomatina Name Game

Back-to-school time means back-to-blog time around here! I was going through my back-to-school materials this week, and one of my favorite activities from my dear Spanish 1B 7th graders jumped out. I’m sharing it here today in the hopes that someone else can enjoy it too.

This lesson started out as a very structured plan on La Tomatina, and then when we had 15 minutes of unstructured time at the end of the lesson, it evolved into a name game/paper throwing extravaganza inspired by this post from Amy Lenord. I’ll share with you how to turn this delightful improvisation into an actually great lesson for the first weeks of school.

First off, La Tomatina is such a wonderful cultural hook at the beginning of the school year. The actual festival happens in August, authentic resources are relatively easy to find, and food fights seem to be a universally engaging activity. I usually start the lesson off with this great wordless ad from Ray-Ban. It’s a beautifully shot video, and it lends itself well to your standard #authres activities. You can use it to anchor a movie talk, pause it periodically to get students to guess what’s going to happen next, or, my personal favorite with Novices, get students to write down as many words and phrases describing the video as possible. You can read more about this no-prep authentic resource activity here.

Once we get through the beautiful Ray-Ban video of La Tomatina, I’ll show a video that goes into detail about the what/when/where of the festival. This one from Tío Spanish and this one from SpanishPod101 are both pretty good. I usually have a worksheet that asks students to fill in certain details about the festival (when it is, where it is, what you wear, etc.), and we’ll watch this video a couple of times to give them the time they need to get the correct details down.

This is where it gets interesting. Once you go through the answers to the what/when/where of the festival and discuss the traditions as you please, hand out blank sheets of red (or pink) copy paper. Have each kid write down their name, two sentences that describe them, and what they’re wearing today. If this is the first day of Spanish 1, they can all write down “Me llamo _____,” and the activity will still work. Adapt what you’d like them to write based on where they are with their language level.

Once each kid has their info written down on their red/pink piece of paper, have them crumple it up (yup). Then, set some strong expectations about what happens next. Your kids are going to throw their “tomatoes.” They aren’t going to hit anyone in the head. They aren’t going to stand up to throw. They are only going to throw underhanded…Whatever you need to do to ensure that everyone in your classroom feels safe. This is when I give a very strong “don’t ruin this for everyone” look to my baseball and softball players who look ready to pounce. Once everybody agrees to the expectations, on your count, they throw their tomato anywhere in the classroom.

Once the tomatoes are on the ground (or wherever they ended up), the kids stand up to grab another student’s tomato. At this point, they have to find the person who corresponds to the tomato they picked up. This can be done in strictly Spanish-only mode by having people asking their new classmates “¿Cómo te llamas?” until they find the correct person.

You can have everybody sit down when they’ve found the right person and stay in Spanish-only mode to converse, have them ask their tomato person a series of questions that you dictate on the board, have them sign their partner’s tomato with a fact about themselves to practice their writing, you make the rules. There are many ways to adapt this for multiple language levels, have your kids practice each others’ names, and stay in the target language throughout. Repeat this process as many times as you’d like to get them interacting with more and more kids in the class.

Timely cultural authentic resources + get up and move around time + practicing get to know you language at the beginning of the school year + engaging in a crazy cultural activity = winning lesson for the beginning of school!

Have you ever tried a crumple-and-throw activity in your class? How did your kids respond to the chaos? Let me know! Good luck with your first days if you’re not back already!