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Feedback from (IELTS class) students - how to respond?

Sydney Matt

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I'm a new teacher of English, having taught in China for a few months after completing the CELTA in October 2013. Today, and previously, I got some direct feedback from students about my teaching, in both cases, from students in an IELTS preparation class. They said they wanted to talk with me "one-by-one", because the speaking activities they do in pairs or small groups means they "don't know what errors they make". In today's lesson, we used "The News" as a speaking topic - I was using a lesson plan I found on the teachingenglish.org.uk website, so it was quite structured. However, the student also said that "our English is not good enough to talk about this topic" (I truly believe that their English *is* good enough!)


I am missing something? For starters, if in a class of 10 students, each student really did talk to me "one by one", that would leave 9 bored students with nothing to do for several minutes at a time (although there are approaches I could take to solve this part of the problem). It just seems counter to what we learnt on the CELTA about the communicative approach and students doing speaking tasks together. Also, it's still the students that need to do the speaking, not me, so I don't really see why they think it's important to speak directly to me instead of their peers.


I do conduct delayed error correction after speaking tasks, but not for all of them, as some I consider mostly about fluency. So, any tips on how I should respond? I'm thinking of continuing with the pair and small group work, but increasing the focus/time spent on delayed error correction.





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Long, long ago, in a classroom far away, I was told to have a grid for noting errors* - student names down one side and headings like 'grammar' 'pron' 'vocab' along the top. Then when you're choosing what to correct you can try and make sure you get something from if not all, most, students, plus you can call upon those students to correct their own errors, or point out that they did the same thing last week.


I'm not sure about skipping error correction for 'fluency' speaking exercises. There should be some 'how to improve' feedback for pretty much everything, I think. 


As for "our English isn't good enough for this" - yeah, that's why you're here. Shouldn't be too hard to point out that they can easily produce some sentences about the topic with the grammar and vocab available. 


* And also any successful usage of recent teaching points. Write it up on the board and ask them what's wrong with it, see who's first to spot that there's nothing wrong with it. Keeps 'em on their toes.


PS IELTS students tend to be understandably exam-focused and determined to wring every ounce of value out of their fees. Listen to their feedback, but bear in mind you may well be doing a very good job already. 

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If they want one on one time they need a tutor, not an English class. I used to get this all the time and it drove me crazy (my class sizes are over 30 at times and they still pushed for this).

For helping the students find errors they need to fix, I find that focusing on the most commonly held errors in the class in turn is a good way to approach this. Make a mental note of 2-3 glaring errors made by students and cover them in order of frequency. This may leave you with a number of students learning something much needed, like structure to their response or a new grammar structure, and some students learning little. The most advanced students who require more intimate feedback on the more technical things such as pronunciation, etc. will be left out of this style of teaching, but you can't please everyone and these advanced students need a tutor, not a class, to improve anyway. It's best in my mind to make this distinction between what my students require to imrpove and what I can deliver them within the teaching environment and help them understand what they actually need to advance. If you're teaching a class and not tutoring, your job is to deliver the fundamentals to your students and not to triage them one by one. A good teacher finds the class's weaknesses and seeks to fix them in a way that benefits all of the students and does not hold back the entire class for the needs of a single one no matter how big the impact for that one student may be.

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Thanks very much for the tips. Roddy, I especially like the idea of the grid, to ensure I'm a bit more systematic in noting which errors to cover, great idea. I often find myself monitoring for errors perhaps a bit at random, so this brings a bit more structure to the process. And thanks Kelby for the "bigger picture" view.

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