Some feedback from my students (and what it might mean)

Hi.

This semester I found time to send my students a survey about things I was interested in class – basically how I did/could:

  • help students to learn.
  • help students to enjoy.
  • help students to get better grades.

I made the survey using Google Forms, which is a really wonderful tool for collecting feedback. You can see a copy here. I kept the questions open-ended because I didn’t want to push the students towards any of the things that I thought I was trying to do in those areas, but rather I wanted to work back from their answers to what I tried to do, or didn’t do. That process provides the content for the rest of this post: selected student feedback is given in italics and my reactions are in plain text.

Things that students said improved their English

  • Many situations, what is right word, pronounce etc
    real meaning words
    board is very helpful

This group of comments is pleasing. I’ve worked hard on providing post-task feedback to students, boarding it and trying to work on and assess it later, and I would say this has consituted a large proportion of classwork this year. I think this group of comments might reflect that. The words “real” and “right” are interesting. I suspect that this might refer to my highlighting of English (and German) loanwords in Korean that may not be understood in the same way by speakers of other Englishes, and other connotations that students might not be aware of (my male students mis(?) use “boyfriend” quite often to mean “male friend” or “friend who is a guy”). Students seem to appreciate this kind of feedback, and this is something I would like to do more of. One challenge is how to extract language for further examination when 17 students are doing a task at the same time. There’s only so much that one teacher can monitor.

  • “interactions with classmates”
    “Many chance for talk”
    “No using of table, and a lot of talking improve my English”
    “I can speak English more fluency.”
    “Talking English other students”

Good! I’ve worked hard this year on maxmising the amount of conversation, or at least something close to it, that happens in class. I’ve done this by setting loosely defined conversational structures and giving students a while to do them. I’ve also made four person conversations the center of teaching and assessment in the classroom, and tried to teach the skills and phrases necessary to take part in them, including introducing topics, summarizing to check meaning, disagreeing politely and closing conversations. The great thing here is that these can be recycled multiple times using different topics, and I have found that knowing/being given structures of conversations helps students feel more comfortable exploring whatever topics happen to come up.

  • “many kind of activity”
    “quiz(even i’m not good at quizes)”
    “writing,speaking quiz”
    “speaking test”

Now this is really interesting and heartening. In the past, students have really complained about the number and kind of quizzes. This semester I moved from doing six or seven speaking quizzes to four written quizzes and two longer speaking quizzes. In the time I saved not doing speaking quizzes, I did more non- assessed but quiz-like conversations with the aim of fluency building. I would like to say that students left these comments because they a) felt that the speaking tests were useful and valid and b) because they felt well prepared for them. The other interesting thing was that written quizzes (and these are very much discrete item, vocab/phrase kinds of test) seem to have drawn positive comments despite some of the scores being considerably less than marvellous. I am hoping that these comments mean that my students found this semester’s assessment fairer and less arduous.

  • “presentation”
    “prepare presentation”

Students are not giving much away about what helped them improve here, but making the presentation project more something where I taught skills and structures, rather than just saying “do a presentation”, helped a bit (unsurprisingly!). It might also tell me that, while they are rarely popular, presentations do tend to be seen as useful by students. I’d like to try to push this project even further next semester amd incorporate more practice and feedback before the event. Incidentally, I did give my letter to students this semester and things did improve.

  • “Not boring”

I should think not you young whelp! I should change your grade to an F for even thinking I needed to be told that.

Things that students said didn’t help:

  • pronunciation

I would love to hear more than one word about this as it’s a matter close to my heart. Here are some pronunciation features I have looked at this year: word stress and production of schwa in unstressed syllables, intonation in tag questions, use of lower tone for serious topics, and general corrections for mispronounced words. I wonder what the comment might refer to? It could be tonal features, which were not as interesting as they seemed in the coursebook. It could be that corrections applied to a few students at most, and weren’t useful to the majority. It might be that pronunciation is about the only time that I employ genuinely mechanical drilling in class and this student didn’t enjoy it. It might even be a wider factor that students generally understand their Korean L1 influenced pronunciation pretty well (especially once they have had a few weeks to familiarize themselves with it if they hadn’t before) and therefore don’t see work like this as necessary. I don’t want to guess at this too much, but it’s all worth considering in preparation for next year, as pronunciation was something I was thinking of including more of, not less.

Things that students said I could have done to improve their English:

  • “Thinking time”

Really? This is something I generally try to do, but I might forget/reduce it as the semester goes on. A reminder to myself to include it in most activity designs might be helpful. One thing that I hope is that the student got the idea because I did give thinking time for a lot of activities, and he or she simply missed it where it wasn’t given, and maybe shows that it is important and helps at least one student.

  • Cheer up some students who feel uncomfortable in class

This is a really tough one to judge for me. I wonder what kind of cheering up the student would want? At the moment I try to give some of my less confident students quiet encouragement through backchannels like Kakao Talk on the basis that I didn’t think they’d want to be singled out for praise in front of their peers, especially on the basis that they feel less comfortable. This could be totally wrong though- maybe that’s just what their confidence needs. One other way might be sitting down and working with the less comfortable students, particularly when two of them are paired up, and trying to give praise while the rest of the class is working.

  • Talking time with alex (not english cafe) personal (1:1)
    English cafe* reserve is hard with you

In my ambition to remove myself from the center of class as much as possible (I’m wondering if my ideal class might be me monitoring everything from some kind of remote, high tech control room and simply shouting instructions in over the loudspeakers once in a while), I can sometimes forget that students might want to talk to me as well as each other, especially as a big reason that students list for taking Global English is overcoming a fear of speaking to “foreigners”. I didn’t really bring a whole lot of my life into the classroom this time for fear of taking away from student talking time. This might not be a bad thing, but it is worth remembering that to my students, I am perhaps the most interesting person in the classroom (goodness that sounds horribly arrogant!) and that this might be something I need to build on and leverage a bit more in the future.

* “English Cafe” is our 1:1 conversation program. Students can sign up for a 10 minute slot to talk to one of the teachers here on a topic of their choice.

  • “culture understand”
  • “let us know uk music (culture)

I tend not to work too much with culture in class, particularly not ‘target’  culture, firstly because ELF (I will save those who know me from another intercultural competence diatribe), secondly because I think, like grammar, it leads to nuggetism (Koreans people take their shoes off in the house! Americans eat turkey!), and thirdly it often leads to teachers explaining ‘culture’ (my scare quotes key is really taking a hammering here) to students, but not a lot of actual language learning happening, or in fact in terms of navigating culture, any useful learning at all. Even where it can be tackled discursively, there are often issues of race bound up with culture, and this can be a difficult topic for teachers and learners. What I am getting at here is that tackling culture in a classroom is not something that should be undertaken lightly, or seen as a one way process, nor dealt with in occasional chunks of information. Therefore dealing with it properly might take a lot more time and thought than I can give it in the space of one semester. I am however, possibly dealing with student expectations about culture and the way it should be taught, and that actually cultural nuggets might be exactly the way they think that they should be taught. Dealing with those expectations should be something that I prioritize.

  • listening individual group speaking

I’m not sure why I got this feedback. I spend as much time as possible wandering around and giving feedback and help individually and as a class during speaking activities. I wonder if it might mean that I needed to give more feedback on an individual level. This is something that I would like to do, but I am restricted by class sizes. It’s not really feasible to provide individualized feedback to 17 students each class. However, maybe this comes from a sense that I am interacting more with some students (those who ask for help) than others. A goal for next semester could be mapping my interactions in the classroom to ensure I’m giving everyone more equal attention, and making an effort to talk more to those who are less happy to ask for help.

Things students said I could have done to improve their enjoyment:

  • “Answer and feedback”

Again, I am not so sure what this means, or how it relates to enjoying the class. I do try to minimize the amount of teacher fronted, whole class question and answer sessions on the assumption that most students don’t want to yell their answer in front of the whole class for face reasons, and that they might be better off talking to each other. However, I shouldn’t (and don’t) discount this.

  • “Use more visual education. Like video or audio. And i am intrestrd your ppt (cricket) talk more fun thing to us. Something like why you hate man.utd.”

Two things happening here. One is my previously discussed tendency to remove myself as much as possible from the classroom, the second is my somewhat “materials light” approach (still refusing to say the D-word on this blog). Yeah I don’t use video, I guess because I find it time consuming to find something suitable and then figure out how to use it. This might be something to think about, but not high on my list of priorities. But should it be?

  • “our seats array very helpful”

I’m glad this got mentioned. I am a big fan of the “horseshoe” seating arrangement with no desks. Why? Firstly it is part of the message that I want to send to students – no desks means not much writing, not too much book, and more talking. I find that desks put a bit of a barrier between students and me, and student to student during discussions (and this is barrier that can have phones hidden under it, or drawn on, and is one that is generally distracting – I get much better attention from students without them). Finally it makes the space much more flexible – seats can be easily moved into groups of three or four, or the space in the middle is excellent for mingling. I’m always happy when students notice this.

Other things students said:

  • “Board”

I used a kind of interactive whiteboard (on my computer – no touchscreen) this semester. I would like to get better at doing it, but I do feel it was an improvement on a whiteboard and taking photos. It was easy to send to students, and to bring back the following day. One thing I would like to do is work on putting more post-class info on there, but this might be something I could do with students as part of a review session in the following class.

  • “i want talking to next semester students.
    Don’t ignore the writing quiz even not good at quiz.
    i always study writting quiz hard. but always not good at quiz because of many mistakes. my friend kidding me because his score is better than me although he don’t study. but quiz is very helpful when ready to written exam. and exam makes me A. so i want to say.
    please study hard in quiz.”

This is one of the more interesting comments that I received. I was slightly frustrated by my students’ low scores on written quizzes this year, and I felt like they were perhaps not studying especially hard for them. I tried to base them much more on the phrase/sentence level than individual words, and this proved really challenging for students. Interestingly, I didn’t see much use of the phrases we learned in class discussions either, which suggests they were either not learned, or they were not ready to fit into a student’s repertoire (is there an internal syllabus for lexical chunks?). Anyway, this comment made me glad that, even with the low scores, the quizzes were in some way helpful to the students.

Conclusion

This is already a very long post and needs to be finished. What conclusions I drew are largely in the body, but I hope to follow this up with some clearer goals for next semester.

Cheers,

Alex

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