Guest blog by Natalie Campbell, Trinity Catholic School, Nottingham.
We all need to know what to do next in order to move forward. Whether you are writing a creative piece or speaking about a recent event or a future plan, a second opinion is useful. In the MFL classroom, if your teacher offers pointers on what to change or makes a suggestion about things you could also consider including, your composition should end up all the better for the feedback.
How do we offer that feedback to students? What should our feedback involve? You could sit with a red pen and write all over a student’s work. They could then look through all your suggestions and corrections to aid the creative process. However, would this be time well spent for either of you? Would it be too late if the final draft had been handed in and you were ready to start the next topic? Can you dedicate enough of the lesson to making the feedback worthwhile and timely? Would the improvements be for the student’s benefit or only to show others that you have read the students’ work and that you are thorough?
According to Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook feedback should show pupils what they can do to improve and the pupils should then use that feedback effectively. School policy will determine what this might be like in your school but the Languages classroom needs certain things to be included for our feedback to be effective and incisive about the next steps our students need to take.
“Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.”
Ofsted, School Inspection Handbook 2016
So the effective use of our feedback by the students seems to be key here. What they do with our feedback is as important as the feedback itself. At training events that I have attended great examples of feedback grids have been shared by the guest speakers. Rachel Hawkes has a wealth of these in the training materials on her website. One thing to remember when using these grids or even coded feedback from school policy (say “wo” for word order or “sp” for spelling) is that we must be sure they are useful to our students. These charts may, after initial set up, speed up your giving of feedback in terms of marking workload but classtime must also be set aside for students to unpick this type of feedback.
Feedback should include vocabulary ideas/corrections, grammar points to review (especially tenses), phonics to revisit (if it was a spoken piece of work) and of course praise to encourage students to take risks and challenge themselves next time. Any hints of reliance on online translation by students should be discouraged but that is the subject for a whole other blog in itself!
As Languages teachers, we should never give feedback simply because we have to. Evidencing feedback for a visitor to your classroom should be an added bonus, not the reason to give good feedback! More positively, documenting your students’ progress and your feedback throughout the year can be very useful for your student to see their own progress. Online portfolios are great for this, you can create virtual classrooms online for free with websites and apps such as Showbie. You can even use apps like Book Creator on iPad to create scrapbooks of their best work. Virtual classrooms are growing in popularity as a solution to tracking progress. A big hurdle for Language teachers is giving feedback on spoken work. This can be a challenge with a large class but recording performances and uploading them to a virtual classroom archive such as Showbie can allow verbal feedback to be given individually and also allows for annotation of written and spoken work. Showbie is a fabulous tool I use in my classroom and has quite honestly revolutionised my teaching methods. Marking spoken work and providing individualised verbal support with phonics for example is hard to do without technology such as Showbie.
The TSC’s MFL Pedadgogy Review 2016 is a vital read for all linguists. The review recommends that corrections should not discourage students from tackling difficulties or risk taking. It goes on to explain that feedback for different task types should be very different and that there is no perfect feedback style to meet every situation. Therefore, we should have a range of different styles that are familiar to our students so that they can access them effectively. It is key to good progress that feedback on grammar, vocabulary and phonics are made to be just as important for our students as our overall written feedback on texts or speeches.
Going forward then, feedback should be given when it will move students on. It needs to be accessible to them, timely and relevant. We must also make time for students to respond to our feedback by redrafting their work or following up on our suggestions in terms of grammar and pronunciation practice. Remember, if your feedback is not for your students this cheats your students out of your valuable time, and a teacher’s time is a commodity that should be used wisely!
Natalie Campbell is Curriculum Leader for Spanish at the Trinity Catholic School in Nottingham. She became an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015 and was given the ALL Secondary Languages Teacher of the Year award in 2016. She is a keen advocate of technology to enhance language teaching.