Great Expectations – welcoming a new student to an established class

What I do when a new student who has little to no Spanish experience joins a class of students who have had Spanish for multiple years.

SITUATION: I teach Kindergarten through 8th grade. It is a small school with one class per grade. It is very common to start the year with a new 3rd, 4th, 7th or even 8th grade student who has had little to no Spanish instruction in a class of students I have taught since kindergarten. See a problem?

** This is the elementary version of a common high school problem – a native speaker in your Spanish I class. How do I meet everyone’s needs when their needs are so different?

This year I have a middle school class with the following

  • Half the class I have had since kindergarten (Novice-Mid/High)
  • 1/4 of the class joined in the past 2 chaotic/unpredictable Covid years (Novice-Low/Mid)
  • 1/4 of the class joined this year with NO previous Spanish experience (brand new)
  • Regular disparities in processing speed and language processing (aka some need more help than others no matter their proficiency level)

OK, this is one of the most extreme examples I have had in a while. I thought I would share what I have learned in the last 15 years in this situation.

It really comes down to EXPECTATIONS, your expectations, their expectations, their parents’ expectations. Don’t forget that this student and parents don’t know you and so they very likely to have their own expectations coming in and usually for a student that can be fear/insecurity.

So here are some things I do to make this a smooth transition….

NUMBER 1 – (ASAP) ONE on ONE conversation with the new student – usually in the hallway before the first class.

The objective of this conversation is …

  • Introduce myself so I am become a resource not an opponent. Building relationships is not the icing on top of the cake of teaching, it is part of the cake. I smile. Get on their level if I am a lot taller. I don’t make it seem like I am in a huge rush or that I am distracted.
  • gauge their experience with Spanish “Have you ever taken Spanish before?” “Does anyone speak Spanish in your family?” Validate the experience no matter what and let them know it is ok whatever their experience level is even if it is none.
  • ease their mind of things that they WILL NOT have to do “I am not going to ask you to speak or write in Spanish anytime soon.” “I don’t expect you to know the same amount of Spanish as everyone else.”
  • set realistic expectations of what they WILL be asked to do. “You just have to show me you are listening by following me with your eyes, and answering any questions with the class IF you know the answer. If you don’t know the answer that is OK. That tells me what I need to do.” “I don’t plan to call on you to answer anything unless you volunteer.” “There will be times that you will be confused. I will do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen but if it does, don’t panic. I will help you out. It is MY job to make sure EVERYONE understands the basic idea of what we are talking about.” “As long as you are showing me you are listening by following me with your eyes, and answering any questions with the class IF you know the answer, then the rest is up to me.
  • let them know they are not the first or last student to experience this situation “I am not worried and I have done this before” (You are not the only one who has had to do this and I have taught others just like you.) “I am used to having students come in not knowing the same as everyone else. I have done it a lot.” “This class has lots of different students, some I have had since kindergarten and others joined later like you.”
  • answer any of their questions and invite them to come to you with any questions they have in the future. Do you have any questions you can think of right now? If you think of something then ask me, ok?

Wow I didn’t realize how much I had to say about this topic. I am going to have to make this multiple blogs instead of one. But for now, this is my first piece of advice. START BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP built on trust, teamwork, clear expectations.

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