Thursday, October 29, 2009

Alternatives to whole class feedback

Last year, looking for some ideas about giving feedback, I came across an article written by my CELTA tutor, Amanda Gamble. Here is what she has to say about the often neglected idea.

What are the drawbacks of whole class feedback?
  • The teacher is in control and decides when to move onto the next question.
  • The teacher is probably doing most of the talking.
  • Just because the teacher has heard someone say the answer it doesn’t mean that all the students know what the correct answer is.
  • This method doesn’t help weaker students – they often get lost during the feedback, especially if they have a lot of incorrect answers.
More importantly, it doesn’t tell the teacher what problems the students had with the activity or if they need further practice. However, the most crucial factor is that students don’t learn anything from this kind of feedback – all they get from it is ‘He drank orange juice’ is correct. They don’t learn WHY it is correct or why, for example, ‘He has drunk orange juice’ is wrong.

There are different types of feedback:
  • Giving students an idea of how they’ve done after a speaking activity – looking at both their errors and the good things they have said.
  • Asking students what they think about an activity they have done or to reflect on recent classes.
  • Checking the answers to activities the students have done.
Let's concentrate on the third one. So students have completed an exercise and now the teacher wants to check the answers. What alternative ways are available to us? Take a look at the following ideas:

1. Give the students an answer key or put the answer key on the wall or the board.

2. Give each student the answer to one or more questions – they read out for the class to check.

3. One student has the answer key and plays the teacher.

4. Get students to write the answers on the board.

5. Get one student to read out his/her answers – the rest of the class see if they have the same.

6. Coursebooks sometimes encourage students to listen to the answers.

7. Give the students a reading text with all the answers in.

8. Students nominate each other to say the answer.

9. Do it as a competition – students work in teams to check their answers and then get points.

10. Teacher monitors while students are on task and makes a note of common problems to concentrate on in feedback.

Why do these?

1. To encourage learner autonomy – the teacher won’t always be there to provide answers. If you put the key on the wall, it also gets the students out of their seats for a few minutes. You can make it more fun by getting them to run to the walls, find the answers and go back to tell their partners – a bit like a running dictation OR give half the answers to one person and the other half to their partner. They share their information like an information gap activity.

2. Although the teacher provides the answers, the students are in control of the feedback.

3. I saw this done really well in an observation. The student with the answer key has to be able to answer questions asked by the class to make it more effective.

4. This is a good way to deal with early finishers.

5. This works well if students have different answers to questions because they can discuss the answer and come to an agreed conclusion.

6. A good way to introduce intensive listening into your classroom with a real purpose.

7. An alternative way to get the students reading in your class. It practises scanning skills and, like 6, has a real purpose.

8. A student-centred version of whole class feedback. It works better if students choose the questions to answer at random as it keeps them on their toes and encourages them to listen to each other.

9. Makes the feedback more interesting and fun and could help to change the pace of the lesson.

10. This saves time going through answers which the students have got correct and gives more time to work on the answers they got wrong and think about the reasons why.

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  1. I generally feel that the teacher should be walking around and checking on students as they work. You can then stop and help students with problem areas. If you notice consistent problems, you can highlight it on the board and cover it more in-depth. Going over the answers is a rather tedious part of the lesson and so I try to do it in under a minute or the students get bored. Any students with problems understanding should have been noted before the answer session if the class isn't too big. You have some nice alternatives for doing this, though.

    The other way I do answers is to have the students go over it as a class or in small groups. Not only do that have to provide their answer, they have to explain their reasoning, and reach a consensus. This is an excellent use of language and it helps them practice usefull language that they need to explain things to each other in English during regular activities as many students tend to rely on L1 to explain reasoning. I simply listen and then when students finish, I point out any that they agreed on wrong and as a group or class they have to go back and find the correct answer and explain it. I find this to be a much more productive way of going over answers. The only danger is that students may get bored as most students want the teacher to give the answers and don't see a reason why they should do it. Generally, explaining your reasoning quiets most dissenters.

  2. Nice post, Anita. I don't think all students get bored with feedback on errors, I think Nick may be thinking of younger learners or teenagers but there are ways of motivating them, too, and make this part of the lesson more fun, like a contest with prizes, etc. Adult learners are usually very keen to learn how they can "fix" errors.

    One, very small, addition I could make, is the use of individual notes, one for each student.

    In a DELTA observation, it's best to show you can deal with error correction at the end (so you can get your Oscar!!! :-) )

    But if not doing one of those, I have found that typing a sheet of really important errors and giving it out next time also works really well.

    Thanks for a great post Anita.

  3. Marisa,

    Thanks for the comment and the idea about the sheet with errors :)

    Feedback is such a neglected issue and I'm glad DELTA is making me work on that.