Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Immediate Feedback For Teachers

by AJ

One huge problem for foreign language teachers is gauging the proper level to use with students. We have an intuitive understanding of Krashen’s i+1 metaphor (just a little bit above the student’s level)..... we understand that the students should comprehend 80-90% of the input. And probably, we think this is regularly happening in our classrooms.

But its not. As a native or fluent speaker... it is almost impossible to put yourself in the students’ shoes. There is a natural tendency to raise the complexity too fast. Parents rarely do this with children, because no one expects an infant to understand complicated language or to become fluent in a year. But we do unconsciously expect this of adults. We fear we will bore them. We assume they are acquiring all of our lessons. Or maybe we admit that we don’t really know. We try to guage the effect of our lessons based on the student’s interactions, their body language, and their participation. These are good cues, of course, but not enough.

For example, many Japanese students will present a blank expression and reluctance to interact-- whether they are completely lost or comprehending 100%. Another phenomenon is that students pretend to understand when in fact they don’t. I do this all the time in Thai class... I nod my head and smile and lean forward- but I have no clue what the teacher’s are talking about. Its an unconscious habit-- but common in most students. And of course, asking students directly doesn’t usually work either. Most students are reluctant to directly criticize a teacher or admit that they don’t understand.

To address this problem, I’ve developed a micro-survey that I use during the last five minutes of every lesson. One a large index card I print the following heading (in the student’s native language & in English):

“The language in today’s lesson was:”

I then have three columns. Column 1 is titled: “Too easy/Too slow”. Column 2 is titled “Just right, I understood 80%+”. Column 3 is titled “Too Hard/Too Difficult”. Five minutes before class ends, I hand the card to a student and instruct them to pass it around-- each person puts a check mark in the appropriate column. When the last student gets the card, they turn it over on their desk and leave it there. They do not give it to me and I do not pick it up until every student has left the class.

This is not a precise or detailed survey, obviously... but it gives me an instant snapshot of how the class fared during that hour. I know right away if most students were lost..... or bored. Because I do this for every class, I can make rapid adjustments. Instead of waiting for the results of an end of the term evaluation... I get feedback every day. Students don’t have to suffer for weeks until I catch on. I can usually zone in on a good level of input in about a week.