As a teacher, I listen to my students and build rapport by giving them meaningful feedback on their answers so they can improve. This type of feedback is ongoing and helps to focus on students’ strengths and areas of development. In my mind, it can be compared to an X-ray, where we spot our problems in different areas. In turn, carefully trained ears can spot different patterns in student’s speech and lead to a constructive conversation on how they can develop their speaking skills.
Let’s take a closer look at the key factors that shape meaningful feedback.
1. Ask your students how they feel
Rather than following the same patterns, ask your student how they would like their feedback structured. Do they prefer it to be concise or extended, general or analytical? Do they want to read your feedback as a report, hear it from you in person, or even listen or watch a recording? Everyone is different, so why not try to let them help you to shape it? This way, you are more likely to reduce stress, as well as build rapport and credibility with your students.
2. Take notes
Whether the feedback is for a group or a one-to-one class, taking notes is essential as it helps to organize your thoughts while you follow the students’ speech. It prevents you from forgetting or losing information so you can comment specifically and accurately on what the students said. Moreover, your notes can be a great source of support when tracking and reflecting on students’ progress or when reporting to other stakeholders, such as parents or fellow teachers. In addition, note-taking help you think of additional examples or suggestions that students can use.
If you have extra time, you can use different technologies to record students’ answers and then analyse them more carefully. Just keep in mind that you need students’ permission when using any recording devices or technologies.
3. Keep records up to date
It does not matter if your feedback is long or short, detailed or brief; keeping your notes organized will help the students to reflect on the feedback later with fresh eyes. Also, it is nice in terms of keeping track of students’ progress both for you and for the students. Bear in mind, if the student changes teacher, you can always pass the notes to your colleague, so they are aware of the student’s background.
4. Prioritize your comments
Remember to prioritize your feedback. Make comments on areas which impede communication. Try not to comment on everything as this can overwhelm students. Find the right balance to cover the most relevant areas of the student’s development and strengths.
5. Consider the level of complexity
Keeping students’ reasons for studying a language in mind will help you to shape your feedback. Considering the students’ objectives will give you a better idea about the length of feedback. If you have a student who is preparing for exams, then it would be beneficial to focus on skills like pronunciation, accuracy, the complexity of the language they used, and fluency. If you have lower-level students who just started learning a language, it would be better to provide concise feedback highlighting their strengths to help build their confidence. In this case, you will prevent the student from becoming overwhelmed and help reduce any anxiety they may feel when starting to learn something new.
6. Focus on key criteria
If you look at the assessment criteria taken from tests like IELTS, TOEFL iBT or Cambridge, you will see that they all have the same standards of checking the candidate’s speaking skills. This includes evaluation of grammar accuracy, vocabulary, pronunciation, fluency, coherence, use of discourse markers, and, if you give feedback to the group, this might also include interactive communication.
Students who are preparing for exams might expect you to give detailed feedback where you follow the rubrics and analyse mistakes which impede communication. In this situation, I find it helpful to research the exam that my students wish to take so that I can tailor feedback based on the test structure and assessment criteria.
7. Include positive feedback
Listening to feedback or reading the teacher’s comments can be stressful, especially when you need to admit to the mistakes you have made. It’s therefore important to balance feedback between what the students needs to improve and their strengths. Added to this, I find creating opportunities for students to apply constructive feedback and try again, it helps to bolster their confidence and skills. I also think that by making space for positive feedback we can foster positive study habits in our students.
8. Provide examples
Rather than giving vague comments, such as “You need to improve your grammar”, it is better to refer to specific examples that the students mentioned. Providing multiple examples on different areas will allow students to reflect on their areas of development from different angels.
9. Try different techniques
Try to grade your feedback to encourage students to self-correct first. For example, as soon as the student has finished speaking, you can start by repeating an example sentence to give them a chance to correct it. Instead of starting the conversation with a phrase like “Let’s correct your mistakes together”, you can say, “Let’s see how we can make this sentence better”. If the student is struggling, you can either emphasize the error or show it with your fingers, splitting the sentence into parts and showing where the correction is needed.
10. Bring positive vibes
Smile, and use a friendly and welcoming approach when you talk to students. Bring up a couple of examples of how other students study, and say that it is not only them who are experiencing this journey. Mastering a foreign language is not easy; everyone needs their own pace, approach, and guidance.
I hope these tips have inspired you to explore how you manage and deliver feedback. Why not share this blog with your teaching community and add your own tips to the list?
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