Having just received feedback from my sports team this week, I realised how important feedback is to me for improving as a player. Thinking about it, feedback is so important for any learner. Whether your goal is to make the team or to learn a new language, you want an expert in the field letting you know how you are progressing towards your goal and what you can improve on to get there.
Relating the feedback I get from my coaches to how I give feedback as a teacher, I think there is a lot I can take into to the ESL classroom.
Feedback comes in many guises in ESL and for a lot of teachers it is heavily associated with error correction. However it is more than just error correction, feedback is about providing learners with information on their performance. Effective feedback can motivate, support and encourage students as well as having a significant effect on their achievement. Without feedback students have no gauge of how they are doing in class and no goals to work towards.
So this is what I perceive feedback to be:
Praise and Encouragement:
It really is important for motivating your students. Give your student something to work on and actively seek them out to give praise if you see improvement (Correct, reassess, praise). It doesn’t need to be something big, it could simply be improved pronunciation during a drill. Catching a student after class or the activity and letting them know they worked really hard and you saw improvement in X can really boost their morale. Personally I didn’t think it was that important and that praise should be confined to young learner classrooms until I became a learner myself. Without question I felt more confident and motivated by a few seconds of genuine praise from my teacher.
However be mindful to think about the capabilities of each student and gauge your praise accordingly. The praise has to be sincere, if I’m told constantly ‘great job’, I won’t believe you. If I’m told to work on something and then praised genuinely for improvement, it’s much more powerful and personalised than the standard ‘good work everyone, now let’s move on to exercise 3’. Spending a little bit of time working with and praising students individually for specific achievements is much more valuable than vague praise to the class as a whole.
On top of that, giving overly-frequent, vague praise can lead to your students becoming ‘praise junkies’. Rather than bolstering confidence, students may gauge their performance and achievement of goals on how many ‘great job’ comments they got. Alternatively they may not take on board feedback at all if they do not feel the praise was genuine and earned.
Study tips and advice:
You have introduced your students to various language points in class and given them a bit of time to practice but we all know that students need time to practice outside of class themselves to really improve. What tools do your learners need to utilize the language you have given them? How can we help learners to help themselves? By providing learners with tips and tools for studying we give them the opportunity to take charge of their own learning. Give them a list of useful websites, point them towards the graded readers, show them different methods for learning and recording new vocabulary. Perhaps set aside 15 minutes of class each week to discuss with learners what they can do outside of class to improve the English they have learnt with you over the course of the week.
Correction and reassessment:
Students need to know what mistakes they are making and why. Simply telling a student they are correct or incorrect is not enough. They need to be shown how to fix the problem. If a student is making mistakes with a certain language point:
1. Ask the student to correct the error
2. Ask the student why the sentence is incorrect/show them how to fix the problem.
3. Give them an opportunity to have a go with the language again.
4. Praise any improvements you see.
This could be done as a quick, 1 minute, 1-1 activity or if it’s relevant to the whole class, get all the students working on common mistakes together. Correcting, reassessing then praising let’s a student know they are making progress. You can also point learners in the direction of useful websites etc. to help them work on this language point further after class. Again, give them the tools to improve by themselves.
And of course not all errors should be tackled in one lesson. Being constantly corrected on every mistake you make is extremely demoralising. Focus your correction on the learning outcomes of your lesson. If you are studying future tenses in class, try and steer your error correction, praise and study tips towards this. Always think about your learning outcomes when you give feedback.
Top feedback tips:
1. Try and speak to each student individually on a regular basis.
2. Keep the feedback related to your learning outcomes.
3. Give students an opportunity to use your feedback.
4. Plan feedback into your lessons. Make it regular not just at the end of a lesson.Don’t make it formulaic and predictable. Change it up – error correct at different times throughout the lesson, give individual feedback, give class feedback, get the students to give peer feedback. For more examples of how to error correct visit: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/error-correction-2
5.BOOST your feedback. This useful acronym produced by Andi Roberts can help you when giving your learners feedback.
- Balanced: Are you including a mixture of correction, praise and study tips?
- Observed: Make sure you feedback on something you actually heard your student do.
- Objective: Focus your feedback on how the student performed during the exercise. Try not to bring performance in other tasks or your opinions and expectations of the student into the feedback.
- Specific: Give the students examples of their mistakes; rather than saying you made a lot of mistakes with the past simple, give an example. Focus praise on specific performance improvement and relate study tips to the language being practised.
- Timely: Try and give feedback as soon after the activity has finished as possible. Storing all errors made until the end of the lessons means students are less likely to remember making the error and doesn’t allow them an opportunity to have a go with the language again and improve.
Do you have other ideas on giving students feedback? Share them with us below in the comments section.