Collecting students’ feedback for enhancing my teaching skills

Somy Paudyal*

I’m a student of ELT but also teach Nepali language to the foreigners in Nepal for the last four years. English is considered as a foreign language in Nepal, while Nepali (my native language) is a foreign language to my students. In my university, I study how to teach English as a foreign language to Nepali students, while I also teach Nepali to the foreign students! My students (those learning Nepali) share the similar background with Nepali students learning English- both learn a foreign language. In this backdrop, I thought of sharing my experience of collecting students’ feedback for improving my teaching skills, which could be a useful resource for EFL teachers and practitioners.

I consider myself as a very hardworking teacher, but I don’t know how my students perceive me. I would literally do anything to make my students learn language. I can recall times, where I had set myself off the limits, pushed myself too hard to design lessons to make my students learn in an easy way. For instance, once I went as far as transcribing a student’s spoken discourse in order to find out what kind of errors the student produced so that the errors could be diagnosed. However, sometimes when I would try too hard, I felt that the students didn’t care very much. Sometimes, when my students wouldn’t get the expected results, I would think them of not paying heed to my hard work, which would eventually make me sad.

Sometimes, we are tuned to listening to only our praises from students that we have a hard time thinking of our teaching methods in critical way. We may want to get periodical feedback from our students, but we ask the feedback in an authoritative way that they’re compelled to give some pleasing feedback because they fear to tell their real feelings. Therefore, it’s hard to elicit the true feelings and feedback from them. Hence, I wanted to try out collecting feedback in a logbook (a simple writing copy). For this, I made a commitment that I would step out from my comfort zone and be ready to get any feedback, both positive and negative. However, my students would often consider giving feedback as an assignment and wouldn’t show much interest in it. So, I formulated one or two short questions and asked them to keep their answers short.

At that time, I was teaching Nepali language to an American and a Danish student separately three days a week. So, I separated the first section of the logbook for American student and other section for the Danish to write their feeling and feedback with date at the top to track the progress. I tried out this strategy for a month to the American student and for two months to the Danish. After that, they took a break due to their other priorities.

I started with simple questions for both. Sometimes, I changed a bit depending upon the lessons. The questions were like ‘How was today?’ ‘What did you learn today?’ ‘How well do you remember the last lesson?’ In this way, there would be a question each day and the students could write their responses as short as they wished. Sometimes, they would elaborate and some other time, they would just write one-word answer. For instance, to the question, ‘How was today?’ the Danish wrote Very good. And the next day, she wrote her reflection as, Good. Helpful to chat over the new words. Also good to try to explain the movie. A good challenge. Also some words stick to my brain others not. When lot of new words other words go somewhere behind so good to practice use of your words.

These comments were a way good feedback for me as I could know what they thought of my teaching. It also provided a way for the students to express their achievement and frustrations regarding language learning. This gave me a lot of insight about my teaching. I came to know that, in second language learning, we talk about exposure a lot. We say that if we give students a lot of exposure in the target language, he/she will learn better. But Danish student’s comment tells that there shouldn’t be a lot of exposure at once because too many words made her forget the former words. She emphasized the need of more practice with the new Nepali words.

Other day, responding to the question ‘How was today?’, the Danish wrote, Very good. I think we are doing so many different things know that I know I will lose something though. Love all the things we do but we could dwell more with the things. For my brain’s sake. Her English may not be highly comprehensible, but we can clearly understand what she is trying to say. Her feedback made me realise many things about my teaching methods. On that day, I had planned my lesson in this way:

  • Conversation for 30 minutes: she would explain a Danish cartoon in Nepali. The new words she learnt would be recorded and taught for the next 15 minutes,
  • Chat again for 30 minutes or so,
  • Read the passage and do comprehension questions for 45 minutes: read the passage I had designed in Nepali and attempt comprehension questions.

When I reflected on the lesson plan, I found that I had tried to incorporate a lot of contents in the lesson of that day. My intention to plan this way was to give a variety to her, so that she would not feel bored. However, after reading the comment I realized that though I spent a lot of time on lesson planning and designing activities, the student wasn’t benefited because the contents were overloaded.

Likewise, the feelings and the feedback from American student were also equally useful for me. One day, having asked, ‘how was today?’, he wrote, it was okay. I was tired so it made focusing difficult. This comment took out a lot of burden from me. I had tried to make him understand some Nepali words and he was simply not able to grab them. In this comment, he clearly wrote he was tired, so he couldn’t focus and that had nothing to do with my teaching strategy. And I was relieved to some extent.

From some of the excerpts from my feedback logbook and my reflection above, you must have already thought how such practice can help us to find out what’s working and what’s not in our classroom. This exploration can help us to plan, re-plan and review our teaching activities and strategies. Maintaining logbook worked well for me and I’m planning to develop this strategy in my classes in future too.

I think that feedback logbook can be used cautiously in large classes too. Firstly, we should encourage students to limit their writing from one phrase to few sentences. Or in place of writing in the logbook, sometimes we can simply ask them to write in a paper anonymously, fold and give that to us. This will build their confident to write freely and truly. Secondly, we can reduce the frequency in the large classes. Instead of doing daily, we can go for fortnightly, monthly or even bi-monthly. Moreover, it shouldn’t be assigned to them as a homework, they should be given chance to write voluntarily in the classroom.

[Note: since you have come up to here reading the whole piece, please share your feeling, feedback or any question related to this article in the comment box below, which will encourage the author. Thank you!]

*The Author: Somy Paudyal is an M.Ed. student of Central Department of English Education at Tribhuvan University, Kritipur, Kathmandu.

[To cite this: Paudyal, S. (2020, January 25). Collecting students’ feedback for enhancing my teaching skills [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://eltchoutari.com/2020/01/collecting-students-feedback-for-enhancing-my-teaching-skills/]