Parent communication for Spanish class can be tricky. Many parents studied language, but their experience was probably “memorize and regurgitate” rather than having the opportunity to use the language in real life situations.
Remember that adults want the best for their students
This goes for 99% of parents, guardians, and other grown-ups.
Since I started teaching in 2012, I’ve worked with about 100-250 students each year. That’s a LOT of adults to manage. That being said, almost every adult I’ve interacted with regarding their student has been concerned and involved in their student’s progress as much as they could.
Yes, I’ve had parents who don’t answer their phones or even those who ask me to stop calling (that one was tough to hear). I’ve also dealt with violent parents and parents who were yelling at me. But of the thousands of adults I’ve interacted with, this is a very small handful and I remember most of them because they were unusual cases.
I’ve worked with new teachers who were hesitant to call home and possibly cause problems between adults and students in their household. The reality is that we don’t know every home situation, and it’s our responsibility to inform the adults. If we suspect anything bad is happening at home, there’s school and state policy for reporting this. In my experience, this is almost never the case and we should almost always contact parents. If you are worried, check in with their teacher from last year or check contact logs to see how past conversations have gone.
Call home early.
As soon as a student fails a test, their grade takes a huge dip, or you notice unusual behavior: call home. The parents may be unhappy about the situation, but it’ll be so much better that you contacted them sooner rather than later.
When you reach out early, you give students extra support in improving their grades. They are, after all, kids and they need as much support as their communities can give them. But calling home, you’re alerting another adult to the situation and providing extra support for this student to improve.
Sometimes you might have several students whose grades drop after an assessment. In this case, make a plan to review and reteach, and send a group email (if you can) to the parents explaining the review plan and opportunity to reassess. Remember to BCC parents for privacy purposes.
Need support with review and reteach? Check out this blog post!
Make positive phone calls for awesome things.
It’s just as important to call home for positive improvement and positive events as it is to call for poor grades and behavior. I make calls for growth, for the highest grade on an exam, when a student is making a great effort, and when a student goes out of their way to be supportive. These positive phone calls make EVERYONE happy: adults, students, and teachers. They also help me break up the calls when I’m making a lot of negative calls.
Be Honest About Your Classroom
Clearly Explain the Structure of Your Class
When I talk to adults and they tell me their student struggles with foreign language or that it would be easier if they could memorize, or anything that has to do with the structure of my class, I explain how my class works.
“In this class, we learn by using Spanish and repeating the same vocabulary or sentence structures so students can master them. Instead of a vocab list or grammar chart, we learn by using the language, similar to how we learned our first languages. We move slowly, taking it one step at a time, and students do take notes on new vocabulary. They also have a lot of opportunities to practice in class before I assess their skills.”
Through this explanation, I can show adults that I have reasonable expectations and that I’m offering plenty of opportunities to learn and be successful. I also give more insight as to why students aren’t bringing home vocabulary lists to memorize.
State Your Concern
It’s important to be up front about your concern for a student. Build rapport with the adult when you call home, but get straight to the point. After all, we don’t have a lot of time to be on the phone. This includes parents.
Be clear with an adult about why you’re calling. Use data and rely on numbers instead of feelings or personal reactions.
“I’m calling because I’m concerned about Laura’s grade. Her average is a 62% and she hasn’t turned in her classwork this week.”
“I’m reaching out because Andy had a rough day today. He was off-task during work time, which disrupted other students and prevented him from completing his own work.”
Sharing the problem right away helps you come up with an action plan. Read more below about this!
Share Your Expectations
Students can’t follow expectations when they don’t know what they are. Adults can’t support you when they don’t know what you expect from their student. Be clear about your expectations and share student-friendly action steps to meet these expectations.
For example, if a student is using a translator:
“I expect students to use words they know on their assignments. Connor has been using really advanced grammar concepts that we haven’t studied, which doesn’t show off his skills. He should use his notes to prepare his work instead of relying on translators or dictionaries.”
And a student who’s off task?
“During work time, I expect students to work independently to show off their skills and ask me for help if they need it. Megan has been turning to her peers during work time, which is disruptive and doesn’t help her get the support she needs. She should check her notes and then ask me for help.”
Create an Action Plan
What will YOU do?
Hearing that you’re making an effort will win points with the parent and put the ownership on the student to step it up and do their best work. When you talk with the student’s adults (parents, guardians, homeroom teacher, dean, etc.), it helps to show that you have a plan. Now, you don’t have to go out of your way – keep it simple.
Here are some easy strategies you can use to support struggling students:
- Share print-outs of slides with new vocabulary
- Preview work and vocabulary before class
- Sentence stems for the do-now or independent work
- Set the student up with Duolingo and check weekly progress (Duolingo makes this easy with email reports)
- Provide missing work or a system to easily gather missing work
- Share grade reports with student or adults (your gradebook likely makes these easy to print)
- Provide support in class (my lesson plans have built in support for struggling students – check out this one about food!)
- Lighten the student’s workload
- Change their seat; put them next to someone who can support them when they have questions in class
Looking for more? Check out this post about differentiation in Spanish class.
What the STUDENT will do
Have a clear, easy-to-implement plan for the student to get back on track. Remember that students should be working harder than you, and that it’s the student’s responsibility to get their work done. That being said, our students sometimes need extra support to get back on track. Here are some possible student action steps:
- Duolingo three days this week
- Write homework in agenda & show teacher
- Complete one or two missing assignments each week until caught up
- Self-score behavior tracker with teacher check at end of class
These are just a few suggestions, comment below with anything you would add! Some of these systems require adult support to get started, but can be student-lead after that first setup.
If you can, chat with the student or with their dean/advisor/homeroom teacher to find out which teachers have great relationships with them. Otherwise, sneak a peek at their grades to check out their best classes. Go talk with that teacher to see what’s going on in their class that’s helping this student to be successful. Even better, try to observe this particular student in their class (if you have the time). This will help you learn what’s working for other teachers to build relationships with this student. You might find an easy strategy that totally changes the dynamic of your classroom.
You can also build allyship with the student! Find a positive incentive that works for them, and use it to the max! Here are some suggestions:
- Choice seating
- One dropped assignment for one stellar assignment
- Post-It Praise (click here for my printable template!)
- Positive phone calls home – remember how powerful these are?
In the end, we all want what’s best for kids. Through clear communication, we can get there and help students succeed. We know teaching isn’t easy, and we can use as much support as we can get. Take advantage of the adults in your community and leverage those allies to help students! It’s a clear win-win.