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April 2015
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Quick Tip: 3 Tips for Personalizing Feedback
by Brooke Eddington

Audience: ESL teachers of all levels

Providing feedback is an essential component of ESL teaching. Hartshorn et al. (2010) suggested that feedback is effective when it adheres to four principles: “meaningful, timely, constant, and manageable for both student and teacher” (p. 87). I propose a fifth component to improve the process of providing written feedback: feedback should always be personal. Here are three simple tips for personalizing feedback.

In any classroom teaching situation, individual students cannot receive the attention that would be possible in a one-on-one context such as tutoring. Providing personalized feedback can help in a variety of ways, including an improvement in student-teacher rapport and an increase in student motivation.

1. Assign and Utilize Student Reflections

First, teachers can have students submit a brief reflection with every major assignment (e.g., exams, essays, portfolios). This reflection may elicit a variety of information by the teacher asking questions such as: “How is this class going overall?”, “How was this week specifically?”, and “What were your challenges? Successes?” The reflection does not need to be formal or academic in nature. It should encourage openness and candid retrospection. A reflection serves multiple purposes, including providing an opportunity for students to communicate openly with the teacher, thereby reducing the time spent outside of class in one-on-one meetings to discuss concerns.

A crucial component of this process is that teachers respond to students’ reflections. If a student expresses regret regarding lack of sleep before an exam, simply writing “next time, aim for 8 hours” can help that student feel the teacher’s awareness and concern. Students should feel comfortable writing about everything from issues with roommates to pedagogical or content knowledge concerns, and teachers should respond accordingly. This practice is not meant to invade students’ privacy or function as a confessional, but to provide an avenue for students to convey any personal or academic concerns.

2. Use Student Names

The second tip, in conjunction with the first, is to always use students’ names in response to their reflections. The simple inclusion of a name helps the student feel heard, appreciated, and individually recognized. Students will know that a teacher is not repeatedly writing a trite comment (e.g., “good job”). Instead, write something like, “I’m sorry you felt unprepared for this exam, [insert student’s name]. Next time, try meeting with a program tutor to review material.” Or, “The issues with your roommate sound unfortunate, [insert student’s name]. Good luck with these difficult interpersonal situations.” A personalized response includes a name.

3. Address Student Goals

Third, relate feedback to each student’s goals. Throughout the semester, students should be setting personalized goals in relation to their performance. Perhaps a student in a reading class desires to read 200 words per minute, or a student in a grammar class is working toward writing a paragraph that is entirely free of grammatical error. As a teacher, be aware of each student’s individual goals and, if the goal is met or improvement is made, explicitly acknowledge and congratulate the accomplishment. This helps reinforce that working hard to meet goals is a rewarding process.

These tips will ensure that feedback does not become rote or mundane. Requiring a reflection, responding to that reflection using the student’s name, and relating feedback to a goal can improve student motivation and student-teacher rapport.

Reference

Hartshorn, K. J., Evans, N. W., Merrill, P. F., Sudweeks, R. R., Strong-Krause, D., & Anderson, N. J. (2010). Effects of dynamic corrective feedback on ESL writing accuracy. TESOL Quarterly, 44, 84–109. doi: 10.5054/tq.2010.213781

___________________

Brooke Eddington received a BA in Linguistics and an MA in TESOL, both from Brigham Young University. She is currently BYU faculty and serves on the administrative board of the intensive ESL program.

 

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