LTL DISCUSSION: learner feedback
Top 3 tips for giving learner feedback snakes and ladders style
Feedback is not a reward, it’s not a congratulatory pat on the back for the good players, nor a punishment naming and shaming the losers; it is just another roll in your turn as you play the learning game. When we play snakes and ladders (I’ve also heard it called chutes and ladders), it’s not all up-up-up the ladder; there’s also a lot of sliding down snakes as well. That’s why it’s so much fun.
Learners need feedback to let them know where they are right and where they are wrong. If they are wrong, they also need to be told how to make it right. Here are three top tips to help teachers give better feedback.
Pinpointing: Be very specific. Answering ‘good job!’ for a good answer or ‘no’ for a bad answer isn’t helping anybody.
Even one word answers can have some truth in them when they are wrong. ‘Horse’ as an answer to the question ‘what animal says moo?’ is wrong. But horse is an animal, it lives on a farm, it is a word we have learnt, but horse says ‘neigh’. There are a lot of opportunities to give a learner a lot of feedback from a wrong answer, and not all of it will be negative. Similarly, ‘good girl’ is a terrible reply to the pupil who answers the question with ‘cow’. If a pupil is told she did a good job remembering yesterday’s new words rather than just being told she is ‘good’, she will know exactly what it is that she did well.
Timely: Sooner is better than later. Don’t let mistakes carry on for too long, as they will soon become understood as acceptable.
Language is for communicating, so don’t jump on a speakers’ every little error, because nothing will stop communication quicker than fear of making mistakes. In the language lesson, though, we need to correct mistakes shortly after they are made. If a learner says ‘there are three red book on the shelf’, you might want to give him a chance to correct himself. If you ask the learner to repeat the answer, then he will probably fix up the error himself on the second attempt. If not, then it will be a good idea to clarify whether he knows about the ‘s’ plural. Likewise with writing activities, the best time to correct students’ errors is during their preparation time so they have a chance to practise some more before giving their final answer (written or spoken).
Positive spin: I know there’s probably an exam coming up, but that doesn’t mean learning can’t be fun.
Sometimes you slide down snakes and have to go back a few steps, but that doesn’t mean the game is over. There’s another chance to roll the dice and climb some more ladders. Likewise with learning; mistakes are foundational building blocks and as such they need to be celebrated, because without them there would be no learning at all!