EL Student Supports Part 2: Knowing Your EL Students

By Mary Rakes, Director of EL Strategy

Welcome to the second installment in our series about ways to best support your English Learners. Today, we will continue to discuss the answers to this question: How do I know I am giving my students the right supports? As I have said before, knowing your students is the first step in knowing what supports they need.

In the last post, we shared a chart teachers can use to map students’ ACCESS scores and better understand the makeup of their classes with ELs. This is the first step in knowing your students-understanding their scores. The next step is also knowing your students on a more one-on-one level. A truly eye-opening way to do this is by using Student Interest Surveys.

At the beginning of every school year and any time I get a new student, one of the first things I give them is a student interest survey. Here are my top three reasons why you should try one, as well.

  • Learn about their family: Most teachers know that a student’s family life impacts their learning. With a survey, I am able to gain a lot of valuable information about a student all at once. Who they live with, what other siblings are in the house, how many parents/adults are around all contribute to their success as an English learner. I have found that students with older siblings also learning and speaking English often acquire the language more quickly than the oldest or only child in the home learning English-they just have less people to practice with and be accountable to! Knowing a student’s family situation gives you a glimpse into their life outside of school.
  • Trends for engagement: By asking my students what their favorite movies and outside of school activities are, I am able to see trends across groups that I can use to boost the engagement in my class.  If I know that my students are all excited about the same sport, music, or game, I can bring that into my instruction through writing, journaling, reading articles, and discussions. This engagement greatly increases student buy-in to whatever we are learning!
  • Show them you want to know them: The biggest reason to use a Student Interest Survey is to show students that you care about them beyond their test scores, reading level, and GPA. Getting to know students on a more personal level sends the message that you care about who they are-likes, dislikes and all. When students realize that you are showing up each day for them as a whole person, they begin to show up for class more engaged and ready to learn.

Try it and see what happens! Here is a free download for a student interest survey you can use in your classroom. Once you have students complete the survey, meet with them and discuss it so they know you actually read it! Ask them questions about their families, mention things you know they like, and tell them about your own life, too. After you do, come back and tell us what happened! Have you ever had success with a student because of Student Interest Surveys?

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