A teacher may have one of the best lessons of all time prepared, but without providing feedback, learner development can only go so far.
Feedback in the context of TESOL is providing information to improve English language use. This information can be grammatical, lexical, or phonetic.
When a dull pencil does not produce fine print, we use a pencil sharpener to get back that fineness. Feedback in an ESL lesson is the pencil sharpener that hones the skills of your students. Without it, their English simply becomes dull, lacking, and fails to improve.
Many teachers equate feedback with correction, but they are different. Correction points out errors, but feedback is meant to assess and provide both positive and negative reinforcement. Teachers can use feedback to collaborate with their learners and assist them in developing their skills. Correction simply tells them they are wrong and what the right answer is.
The nice thing about feedback is that it does not always have to be given in an in-your-face manner that may embarrass students, especially those from save-face cultures. There are a variety of ways feedback can be shared. Feedback falls into two delivery methods: real-time and delayed that are explained below.
1. Real-Time Feedback
Real-time feedback is providing it as students speak. It can be typed or spoken. Providing real-time feedback requires skill and should be used when needed.
Teachers who interrupt their student’s train of thought can appear as if they are cats waiting to pounce on every word that is not produced perfectly. This impacts student confidence—having the reverse effect on what we are trying to accomplish in an ESL classroom.
Therefore, teachers will need to learn to address the big stuff and leave the little things for another time. The following ideas present methods of delivering real-time feedback.
Echoing is a discreet kind of feedback. It is a casual activity that happens in many conversations where one person says something, and the other person repeats it. In teaching, we can use this common conversation behavior to reinforce more accuracy or clarity. It looks something like this:
S: I go to store last day!
T: Ah, you went to the store yesterday?
T: Ah, I went to the store yesterday (an alternate version using direct speech).
Ideally, the student picks up on it and repeats the new version. By doing this, we can reinforce the more appropriate forms without interrupting the conversation.
3. Direct Feedback
Direct feedback is feedback that gets the attention of the students. It is stopping communication and injecting feedback that is intended for immediate improvement. Direct feedback looks something like this:
T: We can say: ‘I went to the store yesterday.’
T: Remember, we use the past tense when talking about the past
You may want to use this type of feedback sparingly. However, it can be necessary when students repeatedly produce gross issues such as mixing verb tenses.
4. Typed Feedback
This works well in an online classroom or with a large traditional class where a projector screen or a visible monitor are present (I did it when teaching at Samsung). It is very much like echoing but typing, as much as possible in real time, what has been spoken in order to show the person another way to say what was spoken (e.g. more practical, more economical, more accurate, clearer, etc.).
5. Delayed Feedback
Delayed feedback requires patience because as teachers, we have an inherent desire to immediately ‘correct’ issues we encounter. It allows for more free-flowing conversations that focus on developing fluency and building confidence.
You can tell your students that you will be providing feedback but at the end of the class, after the class, or even in another class. You can also explain the reasoning behind it for learners who want to know. The following ideas represent methods of packaging delayed feedback.
6. End-of-Class Feedback
Teachers can wait until the end of the conversation or discussion time to provide feedback. There are two benefits to doing this:
1. Students are not interrupted thus gain more confidence and are permitted time to develop their fluency.
2. Students are given a mini grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation lesson towards the end of class.
Be sure not to single out specific students. Treat it as a general, overall feedback based on the lesson. However, this will require you to discreetly write or type notes so as not to throw students off when they are speaking; i.e., seeing you writing whenever they speak, may lead them to be self-conscious and embarrassed.
7. General Feedback for Classes
Teachers can provide general feedback for the entire class. In that sense, everybody is helping each other. What one person lacks another person may learn from as well. Be considerate though, and do not name names.
Keep feedback generalized as much as possible and try to not to use exact quotes in your feedback so as not to readily identify the class member.
General feedback can be presented in typed format and displayed on a screen or monitor. It can also be handwritten on the whiteboard. It can also be delivered orally without using a screen or monitor. It’s your call. Each method has its merits and demerits.
8. Feedback Classes/Tutorials
This is where the teacher creates an entire lesson based on the feedback gleaned from a previous lesson. She can break the lesson into grammar, lexical, and phonetic components to target the ‘actual’ needs of the learners instead of perceived needs. It is a surgical approach versus a shotgun approach.
9. Records Feedback
You can provide feedback through individual student records that each student has access to—a kind of report card. Take note of learner-specific issues and include them in their grade sheets. This provides not only personalized but private feedback for each learner. You can also use this type of feedback to plot individual needs.
10. Reports Feedback
You can provide feedback through class records by jotting the key issues noted in ‘today’s’ class and posting them in a common area. This provides a record for you to refer to over a period of time to identify patterns and allows the learners to see real areas that need improvement.
Feedback is different than correction and is vital for helping learners acquire the language at a level of proficiency that they need in English-speaking environments. As such, teachers have options in terms of real-time and delayed delivery that suit different circumstances. You can adapt them to your needs or for the situation, but at least now you have some options.