Thursday, June 7, 2007

Getting effective feedback from students

Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, Ma’anshan, Anhui Province, China

I teach college first year/freshmen students, for Oral English classes. I think doing some appropriate post-lesson work is difficult for any oral/speaking/listening class (in my own experience), and I wanted to give my students something to do that would help them develop a routine of systematic lesson review.

After each lesson my students have to write a lesson review, to a specified format. At the beginning of each lesson I collect in either the lesson review for the previous lesson or an absence note. In other words there’s no escape!

In the first week I gave a simple format for doing the lesson review, and as they master this, I’m adding things in. I do look at ALL the lesson reviews and grade them - not on the quality of the English but as a report on the quality of reflection and post-lesson activity on their part. In other words, short but insightful reviews get as good grades as long, but uncritical, reviews. Sometimes I do detailed correction of errors, other weeks I give them all a quick look and a grade.

This is what I told them they must write each week. There are 3 sections.

In part 1 they must describe what we did in the lesson. I asked for a simple list of the activities in the lesson - it’s up to them how much detail they give. I asked them also to list what speaking, listening, reading or writing they did. I hope that in this way it makes them think through any activity from two different angles (i.e. twice through the brain.) I also asked them to list language functions used (they have a big list with examples of language functions from previous lesson activities), any grammar points we spent time on, and new vocabulary. (With luck, that’s three times though the whole shebang.) With the diligent and conscientious students, this tends to run to 2 pages, but some do it as notes and get all that on one side of a piece of paper - which is fine by me. In the second part they must then write about things in the lesson that they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy - both, plus say what things were easy and what was difficult. The last thing I ask them to do it to record the week’s homework plus any other study they chose to do related to our lesson, and to record how much time they spent on it. (And that’s an eye opener!)

This is giving me useful and interesting feedback. For example, for the first time ever mine are working in small groups, allocated according to level (in other words, not with chosen friends). Some have loved this from day one, others are finding it difficult, but are also starting to be critical of group members who don’t pull their weight, and who keep speaking Chinese! (Interestingly, my lowest level groupings are all doing much better this way - positively shining.) It’s giving me excellent feedback on what they find interesting, and they’re becoming more reflective as the weeks go by, so I can understand more about how they experience the lesson.

In other words, without actually planning to get it, I’m now getting good quality feedback each week. And of course I now realise I’ve done it in a way that’s quite acceptable across the cultural divide - they don’t think they’re giving me feedback (most of the time), but the more they write about how they experienced it and what it’s making them think about it all, they’re telling me how successful (or otherwise) each lesson is.

And of course I give them loads of positive feedback. Very few hand in scrappy bits of paper as they see other people given grade A week after week now. I keep explaining that the marks are on the content - that my lesson is not a writing lesson - so I really am happy to give someone grade A for an accurate record of what was covered in the lesson plus some personal comments on it. All this will add up to a sizeable proportion of the 30% coursework mark I have to give them for this course, so it’s a real carrot dangling in front of them.

No comments: