Category Archives: feedback

From within.

If you’re on this page, odds are you’re an English teacher. You might be busy and quite likely to be about to skim through this post. Please do me a favour and watch this video first. Thank you.

Now you can skim.

*** Commentary ***

– This video (animation without voice-over) was shown last Thursday in class by one of my students as a presentation he’d prepared (he was reading the text at that point). The presentation of any topic of their choice is an obligatory part of the course this term. The student had spent about 12 hours filming it, and then I suppose more recording his voice because I asked him to do that. Because I selfishly wanted to share it here in my blog. The student created this animation out of his own idea, out of his own will. His teacher (me) did not motivate/ inspire/ encourage such performance in any specific way. The student did use multiple sources to research for his work, including reading non-fiction books on the psychology of fear and such. His teacher (me) has little, or more accurately – nothing, to do with this attitude. I’d say it all came from within.

– One thing we do with my students after watching presentations is writing personal feedback messages. Students are asked to write 5 sentences, or as much as they’d like, in their notebooks with their impressions, notes, suggestions, advice. After that they hand over their paragraphs to the presenter and then to me. This has been my practice for two months only and I do think, supported by feedback from the students and their enthusiasm that I’ve seen, that this idea is a winner on several levels. Well, after this particular presentation on FEARS I asked the group mates of the presenter to share their biggest fear in the message they were going to write. Before I did that, both the presenter and I had revealed our fears, so I thought that’d be fair and maybe interesting to give a chance for others to open up (if they wished – that was a condition). As a result, half the students felt comfortable and added this personal sentence. Several wrote they’d never thought about it. Others were either vague or not willing to share. Well, whether we pronounce our fear or not, it stays within I guess.

– In my next post, which I boldly almost announce in this way because it’s already half-written, I’ll tell about one of my biggest professional fears. The fear I revealed to my students in class is of existential nature. Scared by my own thoughts – that is about me. From within?

– I’d not known about sleep paralysis before I watched this presentation.


And yes, the student said he can’t draw.

We (the student and me) thank you for watching and reading.


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An ELT play of sorts.

With very few lines from characters and an Act of Silence.

/note: all Acts should have been more logically called Scenes. But an Act of Silence sounds too good to reject it../

The People in the Play:
Teacher of English
9 university students


Act 1 At the door

TEACHER: There’s a password today to enter the classroom. Think about our lessons, concentrate on your thought. Now in order to come in you need to complete the idea:”I think it could be a good idea to … in class.”

(whispers, muffled sounds)

note: each sentence from a student is followed by a reaction from a teacher, such as “oh, wow, great, thank you, I like that” + making a note of the idea. All students eventually end up in a lesson.

STUDENT D: I think it could be a good idea to watch short videos in class.

STUDENT Aboy: I think it could be a good idea to read books in class.

STUDENT Sgirl: I think it could be a good idea to listen to songs in class.

STUDENT V: У нас идеальные занятия, меня все устраивает и у меня нет никаких предложений. (We have ideal classes, I’m satisfied with everything and I have no suggestions.)

TEACHER: Sorry, thank you, but please think of some idea for the sentence. Thank you!

STUDENT Sboy: I think it could be a good idea to have a break in the middle of the lesson.

STUDENT Agirl: I think it could be a good idea to have fun.

STUDENT V: I think it could be a good idea to sometimes sleep a little in class.

STUDENT K: I think it could be a good idea to write letters to each other in class.

STUDENT B: I think it could be a good idea to discuss our problems with physics.


Act 2 Perceptiveness

(all students are taking their seats and getting ready for class)

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Why are you sad?
(Puzzled look and a silly near-smile on Teacher’s face)

TEACHER: That’s a very good question. How do you know?
STUDENT V: I have this feeling.
TEACHER: I don’t know. I slept very badly and I hate this weather.

(In Teacher’s mind: very unusual and sweet that it’s this particular student who noticed change.)


Act 3 Skipped, or On Fast Forward

(feedback conversation on students’ suggestions for class, organizational moments, questions, Student D brags about a white scarf very fashionably tied around neck, brief review of what reported speech is all about)


Act 4 From Tales of the Unexpected


Teacher hands out copies of Genesis and Catastrophe and invites to read the paragraph about the author preceding the story. Students learn that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a book first. Teacher goes a bit exclamatory about Roald Dahl’s legacy and its fun and use for learning English. A couple of Students are noticed to take a note of the author’s name.

Part 2 of task: reading Page 1 only. The page ends with this line: “None of my other ones lived, Doctor.” Several Students make articulate and very recognizable “aaww”, “oohh”, sigh and wonder out loud (“Will he live?!”).

TEACHER: You’ll get the copies to read the story till the end at home, if you wish.

Part 3 of task: dividing the dialogue in half and working in pairs to transform it into reported speech. All Students are noted to be working, even those who normally openly sleep.


Act 5 Act of Silence

(One student finishes very early, flips the page and goes on reading. There’s still 40 minutes of class left and a whole big, partly irrelevant point on the lesson plan to be done with.)

TEACHER: Please read the story when you finish with your work.


The 25-min silence that followed was broken several times by the following:

STUDENT D: Why is the text so sad??

STUDENT Agirl (the one to have begun reading first): He’ll survive.

STUDENT D: He shouldn’t have.

(in a while)

STUDENT Sboy (jumping off his chair and exclaiming almost in panic): This is about Hitler!!!!

(this outburst resulted in a lot of moaning, disgruntled remarks, hushing, blaming of “spoiler-ing” the story for those Students who were reading behind)


25 minutes of near absolute silence being engrossed in the story. Pleasant silence. Unhappy when broken. Unusual to all in the classroom. Filled with mute emotions on Students’ faces which were read from their, very different, changing expressions: shocked looks, raising eye-brows, laughing (??!), frowning, sighing, eyes wide open. Watching Students read for Teacher was most exciting and eye-opening. The reactions of certain Students, who might have previously been labeled for repeated lines in their behaviour, shook the world of Teacher’s mind.


As everybody were leaving the classroom, after a brief sharing of  opinions regarding the title of the story and the shocking impact, the following lines were heard and noted:

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Goodbye. Don’t be sad.

STUDENT Agirl (to Teacher): Sleep enough.

Everybody leaves. Closing curtain.


This class happened last Thursday and the notes used to write the post were made during the lesson itself. The decision to give the time to read in silence in class was impulsive. We didn’t do planned things. Reading literature is not part of our syllabus (and these are Physics students). I’m not ready to analyze how effective this move was and how much they learnt in comparison to what they could’ve learnt had we followed the plan. I can’t know or measure the impact of the decision I take until I take it and see what happens. As Josette LeBlanc used this word in her post once – fluid – it’s become one of my favourite words. Looks as if it refers all around my understanding of teaching at the moment. If the day/group/mood/ whatever other conditions had been different, this wouldn’t have happened, wouldn’t have been my choice.

And there’s no further analysis to this Play, just a funny post factum observation that we did read in class as one of the students had wished to do at the beginning of that lesson. =)


Thank you for reading.

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Feedback that just happened

This pile of students’ end-of-term feedback sheets has been on my desk for almost two months now. Every paper has fine varied questions about our course: with a range of answers provided, open-ended, specific, and encouraging a reflective look at the term of learning. As soon as I got them in mid-December, I flipped read through them thoroughly, with all due care and attention… in the metro, leaving my workplace for 6 weeks of winter holidays, with 85% of my brain activity being focused on something other than feedback sheets. *sorry kids*

Well today I was back in class. Same students for me this term, which is not too typical for our scheduling at the department. And for certain reasons I feel visibly energetic and happy, which is not too typical for me after a 4-hour sleep. I step into the class with a beaming smile and just a touch of a heavy heart of having to hide it from students I haven’t done my holiday teacher homework (not pretending though that they’d care too much). We do holiday time hashtags (laughter happened). We do SMART goal setting (learning and an amazing thoughtful attitude happened). And then, as casually as it does, feedback happened.

I am in the middle of going over the nitty-gritty of the point system we’ve been using, again, when one student raises his hand and says something like: “Can you give me some bonus points for the correction of mistakes on my essays? You always make notes and leave messages for me, but I really never pay any attention and just throw the paper into the waste bin. I’d be motivated to look into your notes.” (Several other students start nodding and expressing agreement. Apparently few of them ever paid attention.)
Bang. Thank you.

“Great idea. We can arrange that.”

I distribute post-it notes and say whatever suggestion or idea for improvement comes to their mind during the class, they can put it down and hand over to me.
But in fact we just start talking about it.
“More grammar, please!” (No surprise here, read this and this. Some variants have been agreed on.)
“Consider updating the spreadsheet with our points more often, please!” (?! No way. Once a month is my smart enough goal here.)
“Give away Teacher’s Pet Essay Award points that you decide on subjectively.” (Wow. I do write personal messages for everyone, sometimes long and detailed, sharing my impressions… It’s good to see they are appreciated and want to be seen as measured quantitatively))
“Let us see a monthly max of points we could score.” (Very logical and doable. I am being honest and tell them I was lazy but will fix it.)
“Let’s introduce bonus points for regular diligence. A student who performs at over 80% of monthly max for all four months gets prize points.” (Here they actually started showing off their mathematical mindsets and suggested intricate scoring schemes involving variables, but I stood my ground by protesting and was mercifully excused for being a language teacher.))
“Teach us idioms and proverbs.” (OK)
“Multiply assignment points for those who approach a task creatively or choose to do it in a more complicated format.” (? Multiplication suggestion is funny and clear, but the criteria for this generosity are not.)

Other, more ordinary and less interesting comments were also made. When I thought we’d really said it all and there was nothing to be added to my lengthy list of their remarks, concerns and proposals, some students handed in those post-its with yet MORE comments (others expressed a wish to keep the stickers in their notebooks in case they’d have some more insights for me). Every possible aspect was mentioned. I was blown away by their willingness to be part of the process, the part that matters and that can/will be heard.

I now have to revisit my own smart goals for these groups. And rack my brains for ways to make most of this actually happen. And keep the open space of our class open for more than this one class, when for certain reasons I feel insanely energetic and happy.

I also hope I have a heart big enough for any amount of bonus points)))

Thanks for reading this. Happy teaching!

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Feedback. My turn.

I feel a little bit guilty trashing my friends’ news feeds on Facebook and Instagram with more and more and yet more exultant updates about Japan and the impact it has left for me. This could hopefully be one of the posts to make up for the inconvenience.

On Sunday October 27th at JALT2013 Mike Griffin, Kevin Stein and I gave a workshoppy kind of a long paper presentation on student feedback. The Ideal Team have been way better at  letting you know all about it than me, so  I really encourage you to do the following reading on the topic:

Giving/ Getting Good Feedback Takes ______ (fill in the blank) by Kevin, with a sufficient list of posts for further reading and some juicy comments in the thread

Why I (often) prefer non-anonymous feedback and 8 Stories about feedback by Mike, and whether you know how Mike writes or don’t know, you must check these

Since everything has been said and done, I should be finishing my post now.

But you know, it’s the beginning of November. It’s mid-term feedback time!=)

I felt itchy to try out some new mechanism of collecting feedback out of the numerous mechanisms we discussed before, during and after our presentation.  But I remain true to myself, almost (which fact is very characteristic of how slow I am at processing information I get at conferences… I might be hopeful to try feedback another way in a month or so). It’s a more or less standard set of questions for me, but this time I’m saving class time and a tree and use

There’s my attitude to collecting feedback: I like to make students see they can help shape their learning, and at the same time be more aware of the whole process, not just passively consume knowledge. Feedback goes both ways (I second Rose Bard on that). It so does, in my perception of what a classroom is. So I have thought about sharing my mid-term feedback. My turn, I’ve been learning too.
* Which tasks/ activities were useful? Useless? Why?

I”ve found really useful to do follow-up writing activities after speaking ones. On the whole, being more consistent with writing is a good tendency for me.
* Which task/ activity would you like to do again? (or try something new?)
I’d like to keep experimenting with videos. To save time they watch videos of their choice at home, post links in our shared Google Doc (so that we can all then access them and check what sparked interest or conversation during the lesson) and then come to class ready to talk about the videos. By further experimenting I mean various ways to work on the material in class.

I’d like to use images more constructively.

I’d like to find a comfortable way and good reasons to record them speak.

I’d like to make a better+more frequent use of some activities from Teaching Grammar Creatively book I bought this summer.

* Which task/ activity would you not like to repeat in our classes again?
Maybe I should cut down time we spend on the warmers.

My inefficient, inexperienced way to do dogme style should not be repeated too, but rather improved.

I respect my students for being honest. After the Q-A session about Japan last Thursday I asked them to write sort of a summary of what they learnt at that lesson and their impression in general. One of the students wrote it was good, interesting and informative BUT it’s boring to speak about one and the same topic for 90 minutes!! Look, he’s right. It’s solid feedback.
* What do you remember best from these 2 months of studying English? What have you learnt?
I was amazed by my students’ choice of presentation topics. With them being future scientists but still very much teens, I expected talks about technology, computer games, rock/pop bands  and travel. Can you imagine my astonishment when a good forth of them all presented on classical music and literature?! Out of their own interest, because they listen to classical music in their dorm rooms when they study. So they spoke with zest and enthusiasm, doing their best. Sharing some of the music pieces later on in our study group in social network. They were excellent,even if their language or presentation skills not always were (but that’s what I’m in the room for). I was actually inspired to write this post when I opened the group this morning and played this track from one of the presentations, and it’s been on repeat for a good hour and a half.

Another very memorable moment also happened during one of the presentations. V. was speaking about social networks. Sorry, he wasn’t too ready and the last slide about Facebook was plain text. After he finished actually reading it, another student (another V.) raised a hand and asked: “Did you actually use Google Translate to get this text?” Silence. Laughter. He did.

What did it mean for me?

1) V. the presenter didn’t copy&paste a bunch of text from Wikipedia. He actually typed a paragraph of his own (probably) text in Russian into Google Translate.

2) V. the listener noticed how differently the language functioned in a paragraph from Google Translate. That is pretty amazing, if you ask me.
* Any other comments.

I felt rather insecure several times dealing with casual student remarks about our classes (I wrote about some of the most recent ones here). It meant a perfect chance to see myself through *some of* their eyes, which is painful but beneficial in the end.

I didn’t feel trapped by the syllabus even though this term I stick to it more than I normally do.

I’m trying to get better at teaching grammar, tiny steps, small change.

That’s my feedback, and it feels important to do it for the first time. Feedback goes both ways.

Here’s the lino wall my students will be leaving their feedback on. Same questions as I just answered myself.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your days.

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