One important distinction to make when giving learner feedback is that of formative vs. summative evaluation. Formative evaluation is a way of giving students feedback along the way. It is the answer to the questions, “How am I doing so far?” and “How can I improve?”
Summative evaluation includes those kinds of evaluation that summarize a student’s overall performance. For example, the final grade for a course.
In this module, we’ll look at some:
- General “Dos and Don’t’s” for formative learner feedback.
- And, some specific techniques for giving feedback on work that students have produced when the primary focus is on oral skills, and on writing skills.
#1 Viewing Points: General “Dos and Don’ts”
Some general guidelines for feedback are to….
- Understand why the error has happened (for example, it was a guess; it was a careless mistake; or, it actually showed an error in the student’s understanding of the rules or use of the language).
- When it is an actual language error, analyze what kind of error it is (for example, a vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, or a pragmatic error).
- Choose a feedback technique that fits both the error type and the context in which it occurred. Ask yourself, “What are the important errors in this context (did the error prevent us from understanding)?” and, “What errors are worth overlooking in the interest of fluency, continuity, overall communication, and so on?”
- Whenever possible, use feedback mechanisms so that students can self-edit and self-correct. Or, edit with a peer or in groups.
- Above all, encourage rather than discourage. Use positive feedback over negative. Students are more likely to engage with the language when they feel motivated, confident, and successful.
Video segment #1. Observe the following video segments as 2 different teachers describe their approaches and techniques for dealing with feedback.
What techniques did the teachers use?
What is the relationship between classroom atmosphere or tone, and student performance?
I HAVE EVERYTHING FROM BARELY CAN SPEAK A WORD TO ALMOST A NATIVE SPEAKER.
SO — AND YOU SEE THAT IN THE INTERACTION WITH THE CHILDREN.
YOU KNOW, SOME OF THEM ARE REALLY BOLD
BUT ABOUT MID-YEAR, I HAD A REAL HUGE TRANSITION AS I CONFERENCED WITH THE PARENTS
AND REALLY ENCOURAGED THE PARENTS TO ENCOURAGE THEIR STUDENTS TO PARTICIPATE MORE IN CLASS.
IT MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE, LIKE 75% DIFFERENCE.
I HAD MORE — ALMOST THE MAJORITY OF MY KIDS PARTICIPATING DURING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TIME COMPARED TO FIVE KIDS REALLY PARTICIPATING.
SO THAT WAS A HUGE SHIFT FOR ME AND SOMETHING REALLY EXCITING TO SEE WITH THE CULTURE THAT I’M WORKING WITH IN MY CLASSROOM.
ALL OF THEM CAME TO THEIR CONFERENCES, AND LITERALLY THE NEXT WEEK IT WAS A COMPLETE SHIFT OF KIDS BEING MORE INVOLVED.
MY TEACHING DIDN’T REALLY CHANGE.
WE DIDN’T HAVE NEW CURRICULUM OR ANYTHING.
IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF IT’S OKAY.
WE LEARN BY MAKING MISTAKES,
AND IF YOU DON’T PRACTICE, YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO LEARN
OR YOU’RE GOING TO LEARN A LOT MORE SLOWLY.
THEY ALL ARE REALLY ANXIOUS TO LEARN.
THEY REALLY WANT TO BE GOOD ENGLISH SPEAKERS,
AND BECAUSE WE HAVE — BECAUSE OF OUR LANGUAGE MODEL HERE,
IN OUR CLASSROOM WE HAVE ONLY A LIMITED TIME IN ENGLISH.
AND THEY REALLY NEED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.
THEY WILL WORK IN GROUPS ACCORDING TO THEIR LEARNING STYLES
WE’RE GOING TO ASSIGN THEM — WE’RE GOING TO ASSIGN THEM DIFFERENT TOPICS, THE TOPICS THEY STARTED LAST YEAR.
AND THEY HAVE TO DEVELOP SOME ACTIVITIES LIKE EXERCISES, SOMETHING LIKE THAT, ACCORDING TO THEIR LEARNING STYLES.
THEN THEY WILL SWITCH THE ACTIVITIES AND THE OTHER GROUPS ARE GOING TO SOLVE THEIR ACTIVITIES.
YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
THE ACTIVITIES, FOR EXAMPLE, GROUP “A” PREPARED, THE OTHER GROUPS ARE GOING TO SOLVE THE ACTIVITIES,
SOLVE THE EXERCISES, AND AFTER THAT, THE ORIGINAL GROUP WILL COLLECT THE ACTIVITIES AND THEY WILL CHECK THEM.
IN BOTH CASES, THE TEACHERS HAVE CREATED A CLASSROOM ATMOSPHERE WHERE IT IS OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES.
MAKING MISTAKES AND USING A TRIAL-AND-ERROR PROCESS FOR LEARNING COUNTS AS A POSITIVE STUDENT BEHAVIOR.
STUDENTS HELP EACH OTHER, CORRECT EACH OTHER, AND EVEN DESIGN ACTIVITIES FOR EACH OTHER.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR STUDENTS TO ENGAGE IN SPEAKING TASKS:
FROM A SIMPLE, ALMOST FORMULAIC LEVEL, FOR EXAMPLE, GREETING OTHERS, ASKING DIRECTIONS, SHOPPING, OR TELLING OR RETELLING A STORY,
ON UP TO A MORE COMPLEX LEVEL STATING A POINT OF VIEW, SYNTHESIZING INFORMATION AND REPORTING ON IT, DEBATING, PERFORMING IN A PLAY, AND SO ON.
In both cases, the teachers have created a classroom atmosphere where it is okay to make mistakes. Making mistakes and using a trial-and-error process for learning counts as a positive student behavior. Students help each other, correct each other, and even design activities for each other.
#2 Viewing Points: Feedback on Oral Production
There are many reasons for students to engage in speaking tasks: from a simple, almost formulaic level (for example, greeting others, asking directions, shopping, or telling or retelling a story) on up to a more complex level (stating a point of view, synthesizing information and reporting on it, debating, performing in a play, and so on).
Video segment #2. Observe the following video segments as the teacher offers some on-the-spot feedback. In what ways are the feedback techniques a good match for the activity and the situation?
Teacher: HOW LONG DO THEY GO FOR THEIR CANOE RIDE?
[students talking at once ]
OH, THEY’RE LOOKING FOR THE FISH, HUH?
[students giggling ]
AND WHAT DID THEY DO, MIGUEL?
THEY OPENED THE…THEY CAUGHT HIM. THEY CA — CAUGHT THE FISH. THEY CAUGHT A FISH.
AND, PEDRO, WHAT DID THEY FIND? A FISH.
OKAY, GIVE A SENTENCE.
THE GIRL CAUGHT THE FISH. [giggling ]
AND WHAT DID THEY FIND IN THE MOUTH?
ONE MILLION DOLLARS.
LOOK HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY.
THEY WERE VERY HAPPY. [ clapping ]
WHO CAN GIVE ME THE FIRST SENTENCE? MARIA?
[ Maria speaks indistinctly ]
VERY GOOD. NOW, ANITA, CAN YOU GIVE THE NEXT ONE?
speaks indistinctly ]
WHEN DID THEY GO?
WELL, THEY GO TO LIKE A LAKE.
NO. WHEN? DID THEY GO ON MONDAY?
OH, IT’S WEEKEND. [ class laughs ]
SO GIVE — GIVE A SENTENCE, ANITA.
THE BOY WENT TO THE WEEKEND?
ON THE WEEKEND. ON THE WEEKEND.
Girl: ARE THEY DOING SOMETHING?
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY.
Girl: AND THEY MADE A — MORE — OH, OOH.
THANK YOU. PEDRO.
WE’RE GOING TO GIVE THAT ONE TO PEDRO.
THEY RENT A LITTLE HOUSE.
THEY RENT A LITTLE HOUSE.
IN A LARGE…IN A LARGE…
AT FIRST THERE’S SUN…
CANOE — THEY WENT FOR A CANOE RIDE. AND THEY CAUGHT A FISH.
HOW LONG DID THEY…
ABOUT TWO HOURS.
AND THEY CAUGHT A FISH.
AND OPENED HIS MOUTH, THE FISH, AND FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR COIN.
FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR COIN.
KEEP GOING, MICHELLE.
AND THEY ARE HAPPY.
COME ON, YOU GUYS CAN GET HAPPIER THAN THAT. [ applause ]
Here we saw examples of students helping retell a story about a canoe ride and catching a fish with a million dollars in it. The teacher used a blend of correction, reformulation and asking-for-clarification techniques. She, and the other students, also used gestures to help the speaker continue.
On-the-spot correction techniques are useful for giving feedback while a student is performing. Examples include:
- Using gestures or silent mouthing.
- Offering a quick correction.
- And, asking for clarification or for repetition.
Delayed correction techniques avoid interruptions and allow students to speak or write with fluency and cohesion. In this case, observers note errors and give individual, group, or whole-class feedback afterwards. The feedback can be oral or written. Teachers can also record or videotape students. Students can then self-reflect, get feedback from others, and/or receive feedback from the teacher.
#3 Viewing Points: Feedback on Written Production
As with oral production, there are many purposes for writing (for example, stating a point of view, telling or retelling a story, synthesizing information and reporting on something, applying for a job, making a request, planning for the future, writing a letter, and so on).
A teacher can support the writing process and help with effective feedback by:
- Providing models.
- By making available student self-edit checklists and resources.
- By focusing first on fluency and overall comprehension instead of mechanical mistakes.
- And, by allowing time and making resources available for students to self-correct and to receive formative feedback and peer feedback along the way.
Module Focus: Summary
The focus in Module 05 has been on providing appropriate learner feedback in the classroom. Some questions to ask ourselves in order to provide students with helpful feedback include the following.
- Is the mistake or error really wrong? Or, could it be my imagination? I can always ask for clarification or a repetition.
- Is this a mistake that several students are making? Should I pull back and redirect the group or the whole class instead of the individuals?
- Does the mistake or error affect communication? Are we concentrating on accuracy at the moment? Would on-the-spot or delayed feedback or even ignoring it altogether be more appropriate?
- From a cultural perspective, is it likely to offend or irritate someone?
- Is it the first time the student has spoken for a long time? Could the student react badly to my correction? What is the most supportive way to offer feedback?
Anticipating mistakes and errors that students are likely to make, diagnosing them when they happen, and then providing a feedback technique that’s a good match and that encourages students to keep going—this is what defines effective learner feedback.
See the manual for readings and more information on this and other topics related to Learner Feedback.