How do you respond to your students, and how do you connect what you say to what your students need? This is what Tana Ebaugh and I were exploring on Saturday during our workshop for Daegu-Gyeongbuk KOTESOL. The title is, What Teachers Say: What Students Hear: What We Can Change (click title for the abstract).
Having done this workshop last May at the National KOTESOL Conference, and having responded to the feedback we received from those participants, we were able to fine tune our workshop to create an even richer experience. And from this new experience our participants helped us learn how to make it even better the next time around.
During this workshop, we asked the participants — all EFL teachers — to take on the role of students in an English class working on a gap-fill activity. We gave each participant a unique role card. If they had a green card, they were a high level student; yellow was intermediate; and red was low level. Along with their designated ability was a personal back story. For example, with 5 minutes left for the activity, the intermediate student was 65% done but couldn’t stop thinking about his sick mom at home; the high level student was 100% finished and eager to get out of class; and the low level student was barely done but didn’t care about finishing because she never does well in English class anyway.
Once they got into their roles, Tana took on the role of the teacher and began the task of monitoring her students. As she walked around, she would comment on students by saying things such as,
“Good job! That’s excellent!”
“Come on. You can do better than that.”
Just as a side note, these are expressions we took from a teacher’s manual created by a provincial education department. It is meant to be used as a teaching aid by Korean English teachers.
The participants were supposed to note how they felt when Tana commented on their work, and also how they felt when they heard a comment she made to fellow students.
What we discovered was that students had a wide range of emotional reactions to what they heard, and for the most part, the feelings were not positive. The feelings the participants often reported back were “frustrated”, “bored”, “nervous”, and “jealous”.
The teacher’s comments did opposite of what she intended. She was hoping to encourage her students, but the reality was she pushed them further away from the task. Instead of fostering an environment of learning, she was creating an environment focused on her judgments.
The participants’ awareness now raised, we went into a discussion of how we can avoid this kind of ineffective classroom situation, and instead become more compassionate, empathetic teachers. We suggested the concept active listening; asking yourself “why?” a student may be behaving a certain way so that you may address the student’s deeper need; and also making observations specific to the student and the task. This was a new segment of our presentation, and something we plan to expand on in future workshops thanks to the feedback we got from our participants.
Without requesting this feedback, we wouldn’t have known that our participants would like to spend more time on strategies for being a more compassionate teacher. Without this feedback, we wouldn’t have known that some attendees wanted to know how to deal with co-teachers who use a “love stick“. We also may not have known how to address the language gap between native-English speaking teachers and low level students.
Now we know that we should address these wishes in future workshops. Tana and I are excited about this new prospect and look forward to seeing where our newly revamped workshop will take us.
How and why do you incorporate feedback in your presentations, workshops or classes? Do you think feedback is a helpful reflective tool?