PRACTICAL TEACHING TIPS by Greg Gobel
Learner feedback about your lessons can be an invaluable resource. Do you consistently collect honest feedback from your learners about your lessons? If you do collect learner feedback:
o What do you do with the information?
o How often do you get feedback?
o Who do you share the feedback with?
As many of us teach in a fairly learner-centred context, it makes sense to elicit our learners’ thoughts and ideas about our lessons. We may know how to help our learners with the present perfect, but we can’t read their minds. I’ve found they often have very valuable and useful ideas that can contribute to authentic dialogue between us and our learners.
Collecting the feedback
One affective way to get learner feedback is immediately after an activity, or make it a task: discuss with a partner what you liked or disliked about the activity and report back to the class. This takes minimal time and serves as a continual thermometer.
Another quick collection tool is a short (no more than three or four questions) feedback form where learners can quickly jot down some ideas at the end of a lesson. These can be open-ended questions (e.g. I felt very motivated in class today; I feel I improved my knowledge of collocations today; The lesson has met one of my learning needs.)
Feedback need not be an isolated moment in which the teacher asks learners to comment on the activities/lessons. Instead, feedback can be integrated with skill work. Here are a few examples:
o Teacher writes a short self-evaluation text about some previous lessons. Learners read this and discuss what they think while using appropriate new expressions/functional language.
o Learners create questionnaires for each other to investigate opinions on previous lessons. Learners interview each other with their questionnaires and compile the information in a short report for the teacher.
o If you have access to a video recorder, try ‘Video Box!’ Just as in a reality TV show where the contestants talk privately into the camera, the learners can have opportunities to do this focusing on what has helped them learn while giving suggestions. This can either be spontaneous speech or a prepared presentation with the teacher helping learners with language and organization beforehand. No video recorder? A tape recorder could be substituted.
What to do with the feedback
Reflect on it and act on it. Collecting information is good for our awareness but it is not practical unless we are willing to take it into account when planning future lessons. This may mean we should continue doing what is already working well. It may also imply minor changes. However, it could mean reassessing fundamental ideas we have about our lessons, how and what we plan and, perhaps, even our teaching style.
You may also want to compare with other teachers who collect feedback. This can prompt informed and constructive teacher-to-teacher dialogue. Talking to your learners about the feedback they have given is helpful. This shows learners that you are taking their ideas on board and gives you a chance to be responsive.
But keep in mind …
It is possible that the learners give feedback that is neither relevant nor appropriate for the lesson aims or the type of course they are taking. In these cases, we may assert our professional judgement and conscientiously ignore the student feedback. For example, several years ago, some CAE learners reported to me that they did not want to learn the different writing genres expected in the CAE exam. To act on this feedback would have done them a disservice and disregard one of the objectives of the course. However, in these cases, it is fair and helpful to clarify why you are not acting on their feedback and, perhaps, constructively ask them to reconsider their learning aims.
In addition to the course objectives, we should also keep in mind our particular cultural contexts and the age of our learners. Can we jump into the deep end or should we take a step-by-step approach to integrating learner feedback opportunities?
Also keep yourself in mind. How will you react to negative feedback? (And how can you avoid being defensive?) Will you value negative feedback or brush it off? In other words, what’s your comfort zone and to what extent are you willing to extend it?
By Greg Gobel from ‘VOICES’ the IATEFL bi-monthly newsletter issue 206, January-February 2009.
Greg Gobel works at the British Council Somosauas TC near Madrid as a Senior Teacher. He likes to encourage teachers to experiment and challenge themselves with unfamiliar teaching techniques.