There are many forms of feedback one can offer in the classroom. The two most common are probably whole-class feedback and individual feedback. While both are important and likely to be effective, they are markedly different. Whole-class feedback is the kind of feedback you give after letting an activity run for a short amount of time, taking notes on problems (and successes) and then re-addressing the entire class based on these notes. Of course, this is useful, but it doesn’t take into account individual needs or individual problems; it only considers problems in general. Individual feedback, on the other hand, addresses these very things, however it is something much more difficult to give.
I’m writing this because I’ve just finished read a great article on oral corrective feedback by Lyster, Saito, and Saito (2013). The article, “Oral corrective feedback in second language classrooms” is a massive literature review on the research conducted thus far on giving oral corrective feedback (CF). CF has been shown to be very important for improving students communicative skills. CF includes implicit corrections such as asking for clarification or repeating a student’s utterance with “adjusted intonation” on the problem area, as well as explicit corrections such as recasts, explicit corrections with explanation, elicitation of self-correction, etc. The article is a great read, and the upshot of it is that CF can help significantly, specifically explicit corrections with meta-linguistic explanations, so long as it is done in a low-anxiety setting (i.e. a supportive classroom community with good teacher-student rapport).
After reading this, I asked myself a question: “Am I giving enough feedback?”. My answer right now is yes and no. Yes, I’m giving more than I used to, which is better than none! But, no, I’m not giving it consistently and equally to all students. The point of this post is to explain and reflect on what I have been doing to give CF, as well as ask you, the reader: “What do you do?”.
Individual Feedback Reports
I am training myself to become an adept note-taker. I sit down with different groups while they are completing a speaking activity and I take notes on what they say. I either use my Galaxy Note 3 (using the Papyrus app) or a small document I created with a box under each student’s name (I am not sure which I like better for taking notes: phone or paper). If I see a general pattern, I’ll address the class with it. All other notes are entered into my gradebook, which students can access anytime. I feel that this is good for students, as they have a written record of what they need to work on. However, I haven’t been able to take notes on all students. For some, I didn’t find anything of note to write down. And for others, they tend to be low-talkers and I just don’t hear them very well (I’m not old!).
Audio Recording and Individual/Group Feedback (with the “Spider”)
Last week, I asked students to download the Android app “Easy Voice Recorder” or its equivalent on iOS. I also asked them to bring in their headphones. During class, which was a speaking test review class, I had groups of 3-4 students work at their own pace to complete a number of speaking tasks. While they spoke, I asked them each to record their conversations. Then, afterwards, I asked them to listen to their conversations and note down any problems they heard. I would visit groups, ask them about their notes, and then we’d all listen to the conversation together using one smartphone and what I dubbed the “Spider”. The “Spider” is four headphone splitters (Y-jacks) plugged in together, allowing five headphone to plug into one smartphone. With all headphones attached, it kind of looks like some sort of spider, hence the name.
So, I sat down with the groups, and we listened together. I would pause the audio and give feedback to the individual students. Feedback included some implicit correction (clarifications, mostly), and much explicit correction, as well as general notes and comments on both the students’ individually and the group as a whole, especially in terms of discourse skills and conversational flow – I had to mention several times that students should be having conversations, not interviews!
Students really seemed to enjoy this technique. And aside from some ear pain (my headphones suck), so did I. I felt that this technique was the most effective one I have employed. Beside my own feedback, students had a chance to analyze their own language use, which they seemed not to have done before. They were able to notice gaps in both production (e.g. misusing tenses) as well as gaps in understanding. It was a great class.
The only problem was the amount of time it took. Students typically had five minute conversations. There were four to five groups. I was able to meet with each group only once in the span of an hour and a half. I would have preferred at least twice. Thankfully, there was no idle time during class. If I wasn’t working with a group, they were to continue working on tasks or doing self-analysis. However, I want to employ this technique often (the “Spider” now has a permanent spot in my briefcase) but I’m at a loss as to how I can do so effectively and still leave time for normal classroom activities. Right now, I’m thinking of several different ways, including: choosing 1 or 2 groups per class to listen to; limiting students to two minutes of recording; or making recording optional and working with students who ask specifically for feedback.
One other thing I am mentally experimenting with is audio-synced notes. I read an article about using the Livescribe pen as a feedback tool. This pen allows you to record audio and take notes at the same time. Then, when you select a word written down, it automatically moves you to that section of the audio that you recorded. It got me searching for smartphone apps that had the same functionality. I found several (AudioNote, S-Pen Voice, Lecture Notes Recording) and am thinking about using this in class, but not exactly sure how yet.
How do you give oral corrective feedback? Am I over-complicating this? Is there an art and science to it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!