Getting to Know Students and Families – the Interview Tool

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For various reasons, getting information from parents has presented a challenge for me. Whether the reason is mental illness, indifference, poverty or a complete disdain for what I am trying to do, I have often come up short when trying to gather information that will help me find ways to improve my students’ chances of success. Last year, I decided to ask those questions in the form of a digital interview. I created two Google forms, one for my students and one for my parents. It took some creativity to get everyone to complete the form, but once I did, I had a wealth of information that I had never had access to before. Hallelujah!!

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Fast forward one year, and it is time to revisit those forms. This assignment was very timely, forcing me to do just that. The readings and information presented this week made me take a hard look at what I was asking, why I was asking it and what I intended to do with the information. After studying Carol Dweck in EdTech 504 last summer, I knew I wanted to do more with growth mindsets. I added questions into both surveys to give me an idea of how both students and parents view school in general, math in particular and intelligence. I also added questions about technology and access. I need to know if my students can access the Internet at home with their school Chromebooks. I found the generic “Do you have access to the Internet at home?” question that I used last year very misleading. Often the parental answer was yes and I couldn’t understand why my students kept telling me they didn’t have access. This year I added questions about that access and found a large number of my families do have access, but only through a cell phone. Not very helpful if a student is trying to write a paper!

I added questions about family dynamics. Knowing that a student has to go home right after school to watch younger siblings will change my expectations. Instead of staying after school for extra help, maybe that student can eat lunch with me while we work on homework. It may be easier to come before school (my district changed to a later start time several years ago).

Many of the questions I added or changed on my student interview reflect information that I need to know, not only to improve my classroom, but also to help me write IEPs. I think I will expand on this assignment and create a Google form for my IEP interviews. There are many questions on the paper form my department currently uses that would lend themselves well to being asked in a digital form.

My favorite question that I added to my parent form is very simple. I asked what they would like me to know about their child. The responses I got were extremely valuable, with some parents telling me how best to handle their child’s disability, some parents describing their child’s attributes and some parents giving me trigger information. By leaving the question so open-ended, I got answers according to what parents felt was important, giving me insight into their thought processes at the same time.

I find it interesting that I get more information through a digital interview tool than I ever did with a phone call. Maybe the anonymity of typing answers into a computer helps? I am not sure, but this is something I will continue to use. My parents are not joiners, they are not communicators, and I rarely hear from them. It can be hard to track them down by phone, and most do not attend Open House nights. If I am lucky, I will see two parents all night. I don’t know that using these forms really started any type of conversation. I send it, they answer it, and I analyze and adapt based on my new knowledge. My use of the Remind app has increased those conversations more than these interview tools, as parents are much more willing to drop me a Remind text asking how their child is doing, or when a test is scheduled. But the forms give me better, deeper insight into my students and their families if I ask the right questions. I can’t imagine starting the school year without them. As Anne O’Brien states, “Develop a communications strategy that meets the needs of your community” (2011). I am continually working to find those best strategies.


O’Brien, A. (2011). What parents want in school communication. Retrieved from