On Sunday evening, at JALT 2013, I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on student feedback. I think that’s a pretty good thing, mainly because I dig getting feedback from my students. I don’t do anything fancy. Usually I end my lessons with a set of 2 open ended statements on the white board and ask the students to complete the statements before they leave the class. And the open ended statements aren’t really that creative either. For example:
Two things I thought were a waste of time in today’s class are…
Two things I learned during today’s class are…
While I don’t get the most in depth data from these kinds of open statements, at least feedback like this lets me see which activities were a hit and which not so much. If I have time at the end of a class, I change it up and write the following on the board:
In today’s class I didn’t like __________ because
Not a huge difference, but enough that I can find out some specific reasons why an activity didn’t go down so well. That allows me to make some small changes and use the activity again with a modicum of success. I remember I was doing an activity that required students to draw a picture. A few of the students wrote on their open ended statements that they hated the activity because 1) they weren’t good at drawing and 2) it took too long to draw. So the next time I ran the activity, instead telling the students to draw a picture of something, I told them to draw an outline of it instead. And that cut down on both the pretty-picture-anxiety as well as the time spent drawing in English class.
When I started getting feedback from my students, I think the most common response to the question, “What two parts of today’s lesson didn’t you like?” was “Nothing.” Page after page of “nothing” and “nothing” and some more “nothing.” That meant I had “nothing” to work on, which made me feel pretty good. But it also meant I had “nothing” to work with either. But I didn’t have to worry for long. Because students warmed up to the whole idea of feedback pretty quickly and about four months into the school year, they started getting specific. The other day one of my students wrote, “I don’t like doing simple conversation warm-ups. It is not challenging. Please give us some difficult English at the start of class.”
So what changed? Why did my students start getting more specific with both their gripes and their compliments? Maybe it’s because I collected feedback regularly, and not being satisfied with a bunch of “nothings” showed the students that I took what they had to say seriously. Or maybe it was because I took the weekly feedback, translated it into English, punched it into a spread sheet, and passed it back to the students every Monday. That way their feedback was fresh in their minds as we kicked off classes and probably a few of them noticed that what they had written the previous week actually led to changes in what was currently happening in class.
Yeah…maybe it was those things I just wrote, or maybe it was just the fact that my students needed time to practice giving feedback before they could do it well. It’s not as if they had ever spent significant amounts of time completing open ended statements before. But if I really want to know, I guess I could make an open ended statement like, “Two reasons I started to give more detailed feedback are,” and find out the next time I collect feedback.
I want to thank members of my PLN who have taken the time to blog about classroom/student feedback. Here is a short list of some of my favorite posts. If you have a moment, please leave a comment with links to other posts on feedback you’ve liked. I’ll add them to the list and be sure to pass them on to the participants in Sunday’s workshop.