How to have successful parent-teacher conferences

Tips for how to have successful parent-teacher conferences

Conference time is almost here! While meeting with parents is an effective way to work together in the best interest of the student, let's face it : Conferences are stressful! You are working more, you have a lot of grades to get done first, some parents might not agree with everything you're doing, and you will be having a lot of face-to-face conversations with parents that you might only see once or twice a year.

You'll have some easy conferences, but it's quite possible that you'll have some tough ones, too. In order to be successful, you want to convey to parents that you are a team. Here are some ways to make a great impression on parents and build a relationship that will help you work as a team.

If you can schedule conferences, do it! It simplifies life so much. If your school does walk-in conferences, place a few chairs outside your room with a sign-in form. Ask parents to leave a phone number or email if they don't get in to meet with you, and then make sure to follow up. 

Whether you have walk-in conferences or you have scheduled them in advance, don't get caught too long with one parent. If you anticipate the conference taking longer than you feel you can offer on that day, ask to schedule a longer conference so that you have adequate time for that family while still respecting your other parents who are waiting. 

Have examples of student work that highlight what you are working on and that demonstrate the student's progress in class. Ask students to fill out a self-evaluation before conferences that can be shared with parents. A self-evaluation will give you discussion points with the parents, will share the responsibility of learning with the student, and will help ensure that students connect their grades with the work they've put in.

It's a lot easier for parents to believe their child who says you lost that homework assignment when your classroom has papers everywhere and there is no clear organizational system.  This might be the parents' only opportunity to be in your classroom, so take some time to clean and organize before they come in. Appearances do matter in this case!

Seriously! If you have THAT PARENT coming to see you, don't feel backed into a corner. If you are not comfortable speaking to this person alone, don't!  If you know this person will be in at a specific time, ask in advance for an administrator to be present. If the conferences are walk-in style and you are unexpectedly facing a hostile parent, it is okay to schedule a conference at a later date. If a parent is already angry and you are facing him/her alone, it can turn into a situation where it's your word against the parent's. It's best to have someone at your side.

Print out grades ahead of time so that the parent can discuss the grade with the student after the conference. If your students do any sort of achievement testing, try to have printouts of the areas they can improve upon. In addition, it is helpful to have a checklist of student strengths and areas to improve. You can do these ahead of time or during the conference.

If you have a student that is struggling, be ready with some ideas BEFORE the conference. Do you have a tutoring day? Are you willing to offer retakes or extra credit? Can you set up a communication  system with the parent such as a weekly e-mail or a daily note in the student's agenda?  Do you post assignments on a classroom website? 

In addition, if you have already taken extra steps for the student, be prepared to show the parent what you have done. Document everything and make copies! 

If you are easily flustered and forget what you want to say when the moment presents itself, practice ahead of time. Make a list of questions you anticipate and think about how you will answer them. Don't feel bad if you want to keep notes on specific students so you can refer to them when parents come in.

I have to admit that the invention of the Bluetooth has saved me from looking a little unstable, because I practice what I want to say to people while I'm driving in the car. Before the Bluetooth, it looked like I was talking to myself (which I was). Now, it just looks like I'm having a phone conversation. :)

Yes, just listen. Parent-teacher conferences are not just a time for you to talk about the student's progress in class. You can learn a great deal from the parents as well. The parents will often have good ideas about how the child learns, what struggles he/she is facing, and possibly information about the homelife that the child might not have shared with you.

Let the parent speak before jumping in to explain yourself. This can be hard when you feel attacked, but sometimes the parent is just as frustrated as you are. I've found that a lot of parents want to help and just don't know how. If you can listen patiently and calmly, you're more likely to come to a resolution that works for both of you. Being defensive and not listening to the parent is only going to worsen the situation, so take a deep breath and LISTEN. Oh, and then make sure to take notes so you remember the important points!

Remember that parents might have multiple conferences. Some parents might not hear a lot of good comments during these conferences, and the constant negative comments will start to wear on the parent. Whether justified or not, no one wants to hear only the bad side.

Parents love their children and need to hear about their strengths and challenges. If all we ever share are the negative aspects of what we see, we are missing the opportunity to connect with a family. In addition, if there is a negative tone to the entire conference, the parent is more likely to be very defensive if he/she is contacted in the future. You want to form a partnership, so treat the parent respectfully and try to focus as much on the positive as you do on the areas where you want to see improvement.

If you have discussed specific behavior issues, learning goals, or parent questions, be sure to follow up with the parent. If you have extra learning materials the student can work with, be sure to send those home. If time allows, send a thank you note or email to parents who attended. One e-mail sent to yourself with a blind copy sent to any parents who attended is a quick way to do this!

A little extra work before and after conferences can really help you connect with your families, and making that connection helps everything you'll do for the rest of the year. Best of luck!

Games and activities for teaching French vocabulary

Vocabulary activities for foreign language class

Teaching vocabulary in a new French unit can be really exciting or pretty boring.  My students love learning new words and starting new units, but let's face it : repeating vocabulary words from a sheet is not so fun for them.   As the new year starts, we are either reviewing with our students who have taken French, or we are teaching French to students who have no vocabulary at all.  Are we using the best methods to teach and review those new words?

Here are some of my favorite ways to review vocabulary.  Brand new beginners?  Read below for teaching tips!

1.  Play categories.

This is one of our favorites, and it takes almost no-prep.  Once students have learned a few vocabulary themes, you can play it anytime, with any vocabulary.  Here's how you play:
Write 5 themes on the board.  Let's say la nourriture, les vĂȘtements, les sports, les adjectifs, and les animaux.
Have students copy the 5 words down, making a column for each word.  Then, go through the alphabet (I sing to make it even more fun, because they laugh at me...) On a chosen letter, you'll stop, and students try to write a word for each category starting with that letter.  I usually give students about 15-20 seconds to write, then I proceed through the alphabet.  They'll do the same thing for each letter until they complete all categories.   The student who finishes first wins.

Vocabulary game for French class

2.  Teach them through context.

This is much easier to do once students have a few words to make that context.  If you have a French 1 class, students can read together to work on pronunciation and comprehension, and they'll pick up new vocabulary throught context.  For French 2 students, reading activities are the perfect way to reinforce that French 1 vocabulary and learn some new words using context clues.  And as FL teachers, that is a key learning standard everywhere that I know of!  These reading activities are a perfect way for first and second year students to review, reinforce, and learn even more words.  They each have three levels of questions, with English short answer questions and French multiple choice and short answer questions, so differentiating is so much simpler!

French reading passages with différentiation

Click HERE to check them out.

3.  Have a snowball fight.  

Okay, not really, but it seems like it.  We do this a lot with writing prompts, round robin stories, and discussion questions, but it works great with vocab.  Simply give students a topic, give them 1 minute, and have them write every vocabulary word they can that relates to that topic.  Then they ball up their papers (like snowballs) and toss them.  Everyone grabs a new piece of paper, reads the words, and adds any words they can.  After a few rounds, you can go through the words together.  It's really fun, it takes just a few minutes, and it gets them moving, which is so important!

4.  Immerse them in French.

If you aren't an immersion teacher, you probably find that this is easier said than done.  It's super-easy to use English to communicate, but it only hurts your students in the long run.  So, use as much French as you can, and they will pick up so many words along the way without having a formal list.  Want to get ideas for how to use more immersion?  Read THIS BLOG POST.  

5.  Use songs.

If you've been following me for a while, you know how much I love music in class.  As a teacher, it is more fun for me.  As a mom, I see how effective it is for my son when he is in a music-based classroom.  (And he loves it!)  Want some song ideas for secondary classes?  Read THIS BLOG POST.  

Have littler ones?  Check out Mme Angel's song list for primary French immersion.  My son listened to a lot of these in kindergarten.

So, for those of you with brand new beginners, how do you introduce those new words? 

1.  Use a lot of cognates, synonyms, and antonyms.

This will help you stay in the target language as much as possible.  Students won't struggle with cognates, and once they have a few words in their vocabularies, you can introduce synonyms and antonyms to easily increase their vocabulary quickly.

2.  Use TPR.

It feels silly to be so expressive, but it works!  Instead of translating everything, show them, or have them show you.  Want to introduce a new verb? Act it out!  TPR is especially helpful when you are teaching commands, body parts, or introducing verbs.

3.  Use objects.

As much as you can, have real-life objects on hand.  It is so much more engaging, and real-life experience is what is going to help students remember words.  Words on a vocab list?  Helpful, necessary, but not effective.  Collect any items you can from your units and look for somewhere good to store them!

4.  Use visuals.

Hang word walls and posters in your room and use those to present new vocabulary.  They make great reinforcements, but you can use them to introduce and reinforce the words.

Teach French vocabulary with word walls

 Find French word walls HERE.

5.   Have students read the words with partners.

When you do want to pass out the vocabulary list, give students five minutes to work with a partner and read the words.  This is really helpful when teaching sounds, and it's a great way to help students read unknown words.  Want to make it a whole-class activity?  Type them out on a PowerPoint and read them together.  Get fancy and add images to drop in later so you get that visual effect.  :)

Hope some of these ideas will help you as you review and introduce new vocabulary this year!