Dialogical Feedback: The Beginnings

It’s been 2.5 weeks since the new semester has begun, and I must say all my students are really nice and hard-working. Some of them are a bit less hard-working than others, of course, but still, they all try to do the tasks as well as they can and act on my feedback. They are very talkative, are able to keep discussions going for a long time and hardly ever rely on L1. I sometimes feel like there’s not much for me to teach (apart from some useful phrases and expressions)! Though I should not complain 🙂

For this semester, I decided on some things I want to try. First of them was an entirely new Introductory Lesson that would tune my students into reflecting on the features of effective communication and some useful communication skills. I spent rather long time planning this lesson, and it turned out to be a really good one. Here’s what I did:

I. What Is Communication?
This step was different for lower and higher levels.
Lower levels had to do two brainstorming tasks which were somewhat related to each other: first, they had to brainstorm the word ‘communication’, and then they had to brainstorm what they could do to have effective communication.
Higher levels would start with discussing four quotes about communication (if they agreed/disagreed with them and why) and then brainstorm the same question as lower levels, i.e., the question about the features of effective communication.
Students of both levels came up with similar lists, which included eye contact, careful listening, use of body language, and positive attitude (smiling). Only some of them mentioned mutual understanding, though, mostly higher level students.
This stage was kind of a guided discovery task and, in my opinion, showed good results.

II. Communication Skills
This level was built on the features of effective communication my students came up with in stage I.
Careful listening (or just listening to others’ ideas) became Active Listening (use of reactions and gestures), the first skill we practised.
Then I talked about how important for effective and successful communication it is to understand each other and introduced Checking Understanding skill (combined with Paraphrasing and Asking for Explanation). We practised it with the help of a very controlled activity called ‘This is blah-blah-blah’.
Finally, I reminded my students that it is always okay to ask others to repeat something if they feel a need for it.

III. Discussion
The last stage was a long 16-minute discussion about The Ideal Classmate. Students had a chance to reflect on the things that can make their English lessons better and happier for everyone, for example, being active, helping each other, knowing everyone’s name, not giving up, etc. They were welcomed to come up with their own ideas, but the initial list was rather comprehensive, so only a couple of students added something extra (unfortunately, I cannot remember what it was).

IV. Feedback
The last but not the least!
I tried to make discussion feedback both student-centred and level appropriate. Lower levels did self-reflective feedback followed by peer-feedback (they could use their answers in the ‘Check Yourself’ part to answer some of the peer-feedback questions). Higher levels did less scaffolded group feedback that invited them to reflect critically on their discussion both as a group and as individuals.
And here it comes, the so-called Dialogical feedback, my spring innovation. I asked students to write answers to two questions (anonymously, of course):
1. What did you like about today’s lesson? Why?
2. What did you not like? Why? (e.g., something about Lina’s teaching or something about your performance)

A Little Bit about the Results

Students could choose the language they wanted to use for writing their answers.
Lower levels went for Japanese while higher levels prefered English. Some lower level students chose English as well (those who were more active during the lesson and seemed more self-confident than their classmates).
Among higher levels, those students who seemed shy and less confident chose Japanese. Nothing unexpected.

Almost all students wrote about their performance or their worries/concerns/etc. I am not sure if the reason for this was the unwillingness to criticise the teacher or the tendency of Japanese people to focus on their weaknesses and faults. Nevertheless, both reasons are socio-psychological and have deep roots in Japanese people’s mentality and culture.
I mentioned, of course, that if they did not like something about activities or my teaching they could feel free to tell me about it so that I could change it, but as you already know, I hardly got any comments on it. To be precise, I only got two comments:
– One student said I spoke too fast and she did not understand some bits;
– One student said he wanted more copies of the poster because it was difficult for him to share it with other three people.

As for comments on their performance, most students said they had difficulties with expressing their ideas due to the lack of relevant vocabulary. Some other concerns included:
– unbalanced participation;
– lack of ideas;
– communication problems caused by insufficient knowledge of relevant communication strategies (i.e., struggled to keep the discussion going and did not know what to do when there was silence);
– discussing in a 3-people group was difficult;
– low level of motivation;
– low English proficiency and insufficient knowledge of English grammar.
It is possible to conclude that most of the students experience some kind of anxiety caused by various factors, mostly intrapersonal.

This week, I am replying to my students with some advice on how they can overcome this anxiety and provide them with some learning strategies.
I do not push them though since I always recognise the fact that not all of my students have to love English as much as I do. Most of them are being torn apart circle activities, part-time jobs, studying, and necessity to have some free time, and it’s a big question which of the things above are their priority. Actually, I know for sure that for many of first-year students circle activities and free time are more important than studying; we had a discussion about it.
As I said, I do not push my students to follow my advice. However, some of them got the message between the line, and when they had to answer the Dialogical feedback questions, many of them wrote not only about their difficulties, but also what they think they need to do to handle it. Cool!

I am not sure yet which principles this Dialogical feedback activity focuses on. Learning strategies? Maybe, but I am not exploring this aspect deeply enough, and I am not intended to do so. Motivation? Again, maybe some of them will feel more motivated by understanding that their problems do matter.
I will conduct a survey at the end of the course to get some feedback from students on this activity.
Therefore, …

… Stay tuned for updates!

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