Feedback in the hallway

During the three years that I’ve taught in this teacher training program, I’ve managed to find a comfortable balance between the two roles I play: teaching Korean English teachers how to improve their writing skills, and also teaching them how to teach writing.  Although this division may seem clearly defined, the teacher-trainees have different needs compared to their students, so making space for these two contexts has always been something I’ve been conscious about.

However, my level of consciousness seems to have shifted this semester. Due to my position in the pecking order, I’ve become the lead trainer/teacher (the previous lead trainer moved back to England), which means I have new responsibilities and courses to teach.

Today I realized how much this has put me off balance.

The Scene

In the hallway between classes:

“Josette, I feel like a mess and I’m depressed. I’m really not comfortable with this essay assignment due next week. I’ve never really seen an essay until this week and now I have to write my own by next Thursday. When you asked us to write a paragraph last session, you taught us step by step so I felt like I could do it, even though I still thought it was challenging. But now I don’t really understand the different elements in an essay and I need to write one so fast. My ideas don’t feel organized. “

The realization

In my head:

“Wow, ___ ‘s right. Could she/he have said that more clearly? That’s amazing feedback. I usually take them through each part (introduction, body, conclusion) much sooner than this. I usually spend a whole class on just one of these parts! I also usually ask them to read a few essays so they can get comfortable with the format. This time I just showed them one essay. Then in the second class I introduced all the parts of an essay and said “write.” Barely any support.* What was I thinking! This is so not cool. And I’m supposed to be a model for their own teaching? Man.

The interpretation

  • Maybe I did this because during next session (starting in one week) I won’t be teaching my usual writing methods class, so I tried to compensate for that loss of hours by combining that syllabus to this session. This took away some of my usual essay intro/teaching time.
  • Maybe I read their abilities wrong.
  • I haven’t asked for my usual feedback so I really don’t know how they feel about my course so far.
  •  Maybe I took into account the feedback I got from last semester’s participants when some said the course was “too slow”.
  • Maybe I just thought that was enough exposure for them to be able to write an essay.
  • Maybe this person is the only one who feels this way.
  • Maybe I’m super tired and have been spending too much time staying in the office writing observation feedback and feedback on other writing assignments. I’m not giving myself space to plan and reflect as usual.

More possibilities? I’m sure.

Now what?

  • This participant and I have sent texts back and forth. We are going to work through this together. They will send me an email this weekend with what they’ve come up with and we’ll go from there.
  • I’ve written this post. I really needed the space to think about this interaction. Typing this description and interpretation has given the relief and distance I need to look forward.
  • I still need some time to think about how I approached all this and how I want to change things in the future.

All I know is that I am grateful for this moment in the hallway. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been so focused on tasks and projects beyond the classroom. I’ve also sensed that I was becoming complacent about my roles in class. I felt these things, but haven’t been doing anything about it. This little hallway feedback was just what I needed to start.

*I consciously avoided the term “scaffolding” thanks to the reflections in my first iTDi class with John Fanselow. :)

Note to self and whoever out their cares about such geeky things: This was the fastest blog post I’ve ever written: 30 minutes.

How Not to Initiate Feedback

The following is an example of how not to initiate feedback:

“Can I be honest with you?”

“Sure.”

“I think you bombed your presentation. What happened?”

I can’t remember if the term bombed was actually used, but the implication was along those lines. No matter what language was used, a “you” statement definitely made an appearance in this feedback initiation.

So, after hearing this, do you think I felt willing to explore how I could have done better at my KOTESOL presentation last Saturday? Absolutely not.

Continue reading “How Not to Initiate Feedback”

Attack of the Peer Review!

We’re finally at the revision stage. The participants have looped through prewriting; they’ve taken slow steps through the drafting stage; and now during peer reviews, they are either drowning as beaten-down writers, or resurfacing above all fears as confident authors.

Last Friday was the first time the participants shared their writing in peer response groups. Some groups were so engaged that I couldn’t get them to take a break! But this wasn’t the case for one group in particular. I’ll call them, The Trio.

Sorry, I'm having too much fun with my Comic Strip iPhone app. They really aren't this shocking :P

Continue reading “Attack of the Peer Review!”

Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?

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.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me...or could they?

Continue reading “Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?”

Fall Feedback in Words

Keimyung University

Over the course of the last two weeks, I conducted interviews with my students as their midterm evaluation. I could definitely dedicate a reflective entry to this interview process, but I’ve decided to focus on the student feedback that I requested from each student after his or her interviews were over. This was the first time I requested feedback this semester.  In this post I’m interested in exploring how the students perceived the feedback and also what purpose it served for me.

After their individual interview, I gave each student a slip of paper with these two questions: What do you like about this Communication English (this is the name of the class as chosen by the Department of Liberal Education) class? What would you change/improve about this Communication English class? When I gave them the slip I gave them the choice to either include or omit their names. I gave them this choice because I felt it gave the chance to be open and honest.  I feared that if they felt they had to write their name they would not be critical. They might feel that being critical would negatively affect their grade.  I reminded them that their feedback wouldn’t be graded, and that I appreciated honest answers. I asked students to write their answers outside of class, and leave the paper on the desk at the back of the class when done.  While they were outside writing their answers, I continued interviewing other students.

Out of approximately two hundred students, the majority of answers to the first question resembled these; “I like communication with friends and professor and enjoy the class.” “Free talking.” “Game is interesting to study English.” “Every week change partner good!! because meet many friends.” “This English Communication class very interested. I’m English speak no good. But this class many speak chance very good. Thank you.”

Answers to the second question mostly looked like this, “Nothing. Thank you teacher.” however some provided insights such as, “detail explanation please.” “more communication with partner”, and two of my most advanced students were able to go even deeper, “You make teams when we have a class every week. I suggested you separate fixed group. Our class is big. I think you can save the time.” “I don’t know what to say…Ah! The more opportunities to participate in the class, the more confidence students can get.”

Some students seemed to interpret the second question as if I was asking how they could improve or change. For example, they answered, “speaking, listening and full of confidence.” “English communication ability improve.” “English. My bravery? Thank you LeBlanc.” Since I hadn’t given students prior indication that I would ask for feedback, this reaction was expected.

Keimyung University

If anything, I felt more confident about my teaching practice after reading their feedback. I realized that I was on the right track with group and partner activities.  I also learned that I need to make sure that I balance these activities with clear explanations of the language point. Some students may not be able to perform as well in groups and with partners because they don’t feel confident with the language point we are studying in class. I need to brush up on techniques that reinforce language, but don’t require students to go through a typical grammar lesson where they only do activities in their workbooks. Their feedback has helped me realize that they want to speak, but they also need more reinforcement with detailed explanations of the language point.

How can I create lessons provide explicit (deductive) and implicit (inductive) learning? I believe I have a tendency towards creating lessons that focus on implicit learning of the language, when the students might need more explicit language instructions. I’m not always spelling out the grammar rules, because I believe they have had enough exclusivly grammar-based lessons in their lives. However, now I realize that this may be part of their comfort zone, and could help them connect to the group/partner activities more confidently.  In future lessons I will work towards providing explicit instructions and activities at the beginning of lesson, and focus the rest of the time on partner or group activities. This will give them the chance to reflect on what they previously learned, and therefore they might feel more confident to use the language.  This is the scaffolding that is necessary for a successful speaking class.  Following this method, I hope students will increase their fluency.

I regret that I didn’t ask for feedback earlier in the semester. We only have four more lessons to go before the final exams. I believe that next time I will ask for feedback during week 4 or 5.  This would give me more time to tweak my lessons in order to meet their needs. Since our time is very limited, meeting their needs is crucial to their learning and could also increase motivation. The feedback also helps me enormously when deciding what to add to my lessons.

I’m left with one question: Was this the best way to ask for feedback? For some students they may have found it too difficult to put their feelings into words, and therefore opted for the easy, “Nothing”. For lower level students a scale from 1 to 10 might be more effective for receiving honest feedback. This is something I can experiment with in the future.

Keimyung University