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Feedback Matters

By Bryan VanderZwaag

Senior Teaching Advisor

California International Teachers Association

Let's talk about feedback. 

We all like to hear whether we are doing a good job or not. I hope that most of you have gotten feedback from me on your lessons, but if you haven't, you will soon! In our ongoing effort to be better online Educators, I want to focus on communication with parents and client schools. 

Communication is key, and our business as online teachers is to communicate as effectively as possible with our students by making our class as engaging as possible.  But we also have to keep in mind the parents who want to know how their child is improving.  

This brings us to assessment.  I am often asked how to assess our students.  It is almost impossible for us to collect homework or give our students a written test, although students will expect homework and a test of their knowledge.  

So, one means of assessment is our ongoing feedback.  Parents and clients expect feedback after every class, and it does not have to take very long. They just want to hear you to give some constructive criticism, but also give some praise. Finally, always leave a bit of homework, no matter how easy. An easy homework assignment is to ask the students to write down three words that they learned during this lesson, define the words, and use them in a sentence. Depending on your age group, you could give your students up to five, even ten vocabulary words at the end of every lesson. 

Here’s a cautionary tale.  When I started, I was reluctant to give feedback.  When my clients finally demanded it, I was expected to fill out a long form on a Word document, which would take me at least 15 minutes to type out. I realized by getting tied to the client’s form, I was repeating a lot of information over and over and wasting an awful lot of time.  I immediately started giving regular short feedback at the end of every lesson, and my clients have been pleased, never again asking me to fill out a long form. 

I know.  I hear you.  I don’t have extra time to type out feedback, either.  But feedback doesn't need to take that long. I want to remind you to use the voice text function on your phone. I have to walk my dog after every single class, and as I do, I record a voice text recalling the lesson I just taught. You can do the same by opening a text document and dictating, or directly into WeChat or other text message.  

Here’s an example of my feedback:

Feedback for Marco. Today we finished Week 1, and I think Marco is doing very well! I asked him to read out loud several times, and I think his English is improving. One-note. I think we should focus on his pronunciation of the long I sound, such as the words time and mine. I pinpointed this weakness tonight. I will probably do a phonics worksheet with him during class next time. Marco's homework this week is to do the project on day 5. He will need some supplies like celery and food coloring, I hope that he will not have any problem getting these things. Please take pictures of your project to share next time! We will start a new unit next week and I'm looking forward to it!

Then, I can send my feedback in WeChat, email, or I can paste it directly into my ClassIn chat when I return to my computer. You’re a teacher of the future.  Use the technology of the future to make your job easier!  

As you go forward, please remember to give feedback to all of your students after every class, or at least by the end of your workday. They will appreciate it, even the homework! And their parents will understand a lot more what you were doing and why, and you will get a lot less questions.

What are your thoughts on feedback?  How can we do better? I look forward to your thoughts in the future on this issue as we all help each other to be the best we can be!


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