Student Feedback

 

Photo on 01-07-2016 at 13.46

“To be lyrical, to be confident. And it makes me prefer British English rather than American English.” My work here is done.

This was the last week of the semester for me and as a part of that I gave some of my classes feedback forms. It’s been very insightful for me and I wish I’d done it earlier now. You can see that in the feedback form that I’ve tried to ask questions that force students to not just try and be nice to me and to offer some changes they’d like to see. I wanted to share some of this feedback; some of it was thought provoking for me, and it might be for you too. I’d also like to share some thoughts about the process of getting feedback and perceptions of classes.

“It’s too hard/easy”

“Some contents [of the course] are too easy and boring.”

“Some of the questions are too hard to answer.”

Some of the comments that came up over and over again were about the difficulty of the class. The problem here is that the comments were kind of split between students who thought the class was too easy, and those who thought the class was too hard. It’s a much bigger problem than everyone thinking things were too easy or everyone thinking they were too hard.

 

At the moment I’m teaching classes of around 45-65 students who range in ability from pre to post intermediate. In an ideal world I’d be teaching smaller classes of students of a similar English ability. Next semester I’ll be trying to put some extension tasks in for students who found everything too easy. I think differentiation is something that ESL teachers, myself included, maybe forget about too often.

“Teach us more”

 “The teacher is too kind and we didn’t do enough homework so we can’t acquire knowledge very well.”

“What didn’t you like about this course: It includes too much communication practice. I would cut some time practicing communication and increase more knowledge.”

My classes this semester have been very task based. The presentation/practice/production has been at about a 10%/25%/65% split. I’ve tried to lean quite heavily on the production part of PPP because I think my students generally get a lot of presentation and practice but don’t have many chances to just talk.

Some of my students gave me feedback that lots of the things they did in class weren’t new or useful for them. A student in my conversation class said that they’d spent two weeks ‘saying hello’. I had tried to plan two weeks of classes based around saying hello, understanding the different registers we use to say hello and transitioning from hello to small talk. That comment was one that stayed around in my head for a while and, to be honest, made me feel like a bad teacher. On reflection I can see that there probably isn’t anything in saying hello or asking some questions that is new vocabulary or grammar and that might be frustrating if you felt that you’d already ‘got it’. I’d like to go back in time and spend more time early on in the semester explaining why I concentrate so much on free practice activities.

“Let us talk more”

“Actually we talked in English not so much.”

“Give more opportunities to students so that they can talk with each other.”

Despite everything I’ve just written about students feeling like they practiced too much and not actually learned anything, some also wrote that they didn’t spend enough time practicing. I don’t really know what to say about this and I’m not exactly sure exactly what they meant by this. Maybe some kind of free practice without any kind of topic at all?

“I don’t want to talk to people who aren’t my friends/ I don’t want to talk to girls”

“If I have to say a point that I don’t like about this course, maybe boys and girls can’t really exchange their ideas because they don’t know about each other.”

“When we change seats to talk to an unfamiliar classmate, I feel a little embarrassed.”

At the start of the semester I let students talk to whomever they like. It was okay but I found that if I mixed up the class (we did lots of ‘speed dating’ style activities) things were generally better. I had some students who would do a lot of what I can best describe as ‘effing about’: chatting in L1 when they think I can’t hear, playing Hearthstone on their phones and so on. If I said ‘find a new partner’ they’d generally walk around and then go back to their best friend.

I got lots of comments about it being awkward to talk to other people and how it was awkward to talk to people of different genders. I’m not sure if I’m too worried about this feedback to be honest. From my perspective, the classes went a lot better when people were talking to new people. I will be double checking this perception in the coming semester.

Some thoughts on everything

It’s been an interesting process getting this feedback. When I first got the feedback I was actually kind of down about it. My brain picked out all of the bad things and kept them rolling around in there for about a day. After that I started to see both sides of the feedback, but it was a bit more of a confidence knock than I was expecting because I never hear the bad things about my professional practice.

Something I noticed is that the feedback shows that a teachers’ perception of what happened in a class can be completely off. I wasn’t expecting anyone to say ‘you should have let us talk more’. Students have very different perceptions of what their needs are to teachers. Whilst preparing this blog I have also been reading Task-Based Language Education: From theory to Practice (Van den Branden, 2006: 20-21)  The author cites a study (Nunan, 1988) showing that students and teachers have very different perceptions of what is a relevant activity for second language learning.  Van den Branden contrasts the  “objective” perception of teachers and other outside sources with the “subjective” perceptions of students. I don’t think it’s really that simple, surely teachers also have a subjective view of the class or what’s useful. I’m not 100% sure what the right answer is when the teacher and students have a different perception of class, but it is an interesting topic.

Finally I think It’s important to talk about your teaching philosophy with the students, especially if it’s a little different to what they’re used to. It’s one thing to have a kick ass teaching philosophy, but if your students don’t understand why you’re doing what you do, they might come away a little confused, demotivated and unsatisfied.

References

Van Avermaet, P and Gysen, S ‘From Needs to Tasks: Language learning needs in a task-based approach pp. 17-46 in Van Der Branden, K (2006) Task-Based Language Education: From theory to practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D (1988) The Learner-Centered Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.