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by Erica Fischer on Apr 26, 2016

How To: Put Student Feedback to Good Use in the World Language Classroom

 
Last week, participants of #langchat got together to chat about ways to get and use student input/feedback when it comes to informing future lessons, units and levels. Contributors had a lot of great ideas to share about why it’s important to let students have a voice when it comes to shaping curriculum plans, and how/how often they think teachers should try and get feedback from their students. They also discussed what things they think can be amended due to student feedback, and how they handle negative feedback when it comes their way. Lastly, chatters discussed how they positively communicate with students about the things that are 100% non-negotiable in their classrooms.

We’d like to offer a big round of applause to John (@CadenaSensei) for leading the Thursday night chat with help from Colleeen (@CoLeeSensei), as well as give a shout out to Wendy (@MmeFarab) and Laura (@SraSpanglish) for holding down the #SaturdaySequel. And a special thanks to our weekly #langchat participants, we couldn’t do it without you!

Question 1: Why would it be important to let students have a voice in your curriculum plans?

Students are the reason that world language teachers do what they do – without student interest and progress, there would be no reason to teach a world language class in the first place. As @MlleSulewski pointed out, “Well, they [students] are the ones who the curriculum is FOR! I already know French, it’s gotta be about them now!”

With that thought in mind, many langchatters had a lot of great opinions to share on the reasons why WL teachers would need (and want) to let students to have a voice in their curriculum plans. One participant proposed that if kids get to learn about their interests, they’re more interested, they pay more attention, and they acquire more, and many participants agreed. Other reasons to give students a voice included the thought that engaged students are happier and better behaved, it builds trust and allows for them to take risks (which leads to growth), and the fact that it’s easier to get them to buy in when they get to be involved in the process. Langchatters universally agreed that students have to see themselves as shareholders in the process to ever truly achieve language acquisition, especially since they will only remember what they find useful and interesting. With that in mind, it’s very important to take the time to find out what exactly is “useful and interesting” from their point of view.

Another really good way to think about this topic was shared by @CoLeeSensei – she pointed out that if you’re ever wondering why you need to get student input then just think about, “…how [do] we [teachers] feel when we are asked to comment/contribute to something. [So then] why wouldn’t we ask them [students] to do the same?”

Question 2: How, and how often, do you get student feedback about your class?

Opinions on how, and how often, WL teachers should try to get student feedback about their classes were fairly varied. Depending on the class level, some teachers shared that they try to work it in on a daily basis in the form of an informal/verbal Q and A about a particular activity, while others felt that taking the time for a more structured journaling or written Q and A on a less frequent basis was a better way to go. Overall, the consensus seemed to be that getting feedback on some kind of a regular basis is a desired goal to work towards, as a lot of teachers are still trying to figure out ways to make it a regular part of their class structure.

On the other hand, Some popular suggestions came from teachers who already have a system for gathering student input down pat – such as @la_sra_hinson’s saying that she gets it, “Every four and a half weeks…[through] progress reports and report cards [that] means [students] turn it in to me signed with a reflection on class.” or @ProfeCochran’s statement that at a, “Bare minimum: every Friday through journaling. Daily reflections are always a goal, too.”

Suggestions for ways to work in gather student feedback ranged from things like class debriefing and one on one discussions in the upper levels, to more formal things (such as school sanctioned feedback surveys once a term) and less formal things (such as open question/discussion sessions after activity asking things like how did this feel, how’d it work, etc.). Similarly, @doriecp was a proponent for the use of both when she said, “…informally (through observation, engagement): daily; formally (writer or oral feedback): at least once a unit.”

Question 3: What pieces of your curriculum do you change based on student feedback, and how?

When it comes to taking the step of actually changing the curriculum based on student feedback, opinions were varied on just how far you should go when taking it into account. Various langchatters shared that they’ve dropped themes, topics, novels, daily activities, and even whole units based on student feedback. Others felt that taking student feedback into account should be more about changing your teaching tactics and strategies rather than removing actually pieces of the curriculum.

A few suggestions for things to change included making adjustments so that it all fits into the larger proficiency plan, re-focusing a theme/the necessary language functions based on students level of comfort/motivation, reorganize units and add scaffolding to activities, adjust grade book organization, alter the pace/sequence of things, change the type of project/the time they have to complete it, blend the project with technology, or simply change the way the content in question is presented and add activities.
A couple of participants also pointed out that while sometimes students have helpful feedback that truly assists your goals of streamlining and making a lesson better, sometimes students will ask for things that don’t push them towards proficiency. They’ll want things that are “just for fun” or because it’s an activity that they’ll enjoy doing more, but it doesn’t really have much substance. And while it’s fine to adjust plans and add those less significant activities once in a while, you have to make sure and take student input with a grain of salt so that you don’t end up with a unit or lesson that provides them with very little substance.

Question 4: How do you handle negative feedback?

Langchatters seemed to agree that while getting constructive criticism and negative feedback is a part of any job, it can be harder to not take it personally when that negative feedback is coming from students who you give a lot of effort to, day in and day out. You have to be willing to make adjustments if something is actually too hard or not suited to a class’s proficiency level, while at the same time being mindful that you need to push them out of their comfort zone – it’s a balancing act that takes time to perfect. To get started, @ksipes129’s suggested that teachers who are getting negative feedback, “Smile, take a breath, and ask for more specific info or an alternative/suggestion.” While @MmeBlouwolff’s suggested that you work to turn it into an “…‘I’m curious’ conversation: [For example] tell me more about… I’m trying to understand…etc.”

Ideas for ways to handle student’s negative feedback included making sure to figure out if it’s because the assignment is hard and they don’t like, or because there’s actually something about the structure of the assignment that needs to be addressed. Teachers have to sort through the typical whining that can happen when students simply don’t like an activity, as opposed to negative feedback that indicates that there’s something fundamentally wrong with that activity.

As @”ProfeCochran pointed out, “…a lot of negative feedback in [world language] stems from [students] being uncomfortable with the struggle, the inferring that is inherent [in studying another language].” Similarly, @VTracy7 said, “The real challenge is HEARING what they MEAN amidst their whines and incoherent gripes. #UnderDevelopedPrefrontalCortex.” So if it’s one or two students who have an issue with something, you’re most likely good to go – but if the whole class has a problem, then you might need to rethink what’s going on and take another look at what you’re asking them to do.

Question 5: How do you communicate positively with students about areas that are NOT negotiable?

As in any area of life, there are certain things about your classroom that are non-negotiable, no matter what students might think of them. While those vary from teacher to teacher, some of the “non-negotiable” things langchatters mentioned include seating arrangement, grading practices, using target language 90% of the time, participation, eye contact, communicating, supporting partner and classmates, being kind, not just ‘trying to finish’, making the ‘team’ more important than self, and many more.

To the effect that students don’t like something or don’t want to do something you’ve deemed 100% necessary, you have to communicate about it in a positive way that doesn’t shut them down, and also lets them know that it’s not open for discussion. Langchatters shared various techniques for positive communication, including pointing out student’s strengths and how the undesired activity will help them in the long run, telling them what’s going on ahead of time so that they feel more comfortable with it, and letting them know that while they can’t have input on this thing, they’ll be able to have it about something else later on.

Takeaways

Last week, Langchatters joined in a great discussion about student feedback and the ways to use and incorporate it into future lessons, units and levels. Takeaways included that end of the unit/year surveys are a great tool to use when restructuring that content the next time around, that there’s always more reflecting to do on what/when/how you get student feedback, that it’s important to tailor things to student input/interest as much as appropriate because they really will participate and learn more, and that there’s always room to grow when it comes to taking and using negative feedback to your advantage. As @ ProfeCochran said, “My takeaway: We all get some negative feedback from time to time. It’ what you DO with it that matters! #langchat #dustyourselfoff.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat and shared their thoughts on how to use student feedback to inform your future curriculum and lesson plans. We hope that you continue to join #langchat whenever you are able – if the regular chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats are getting busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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