I’m actually super busy at the moment so this will hopefully be a short post. Although it might end up being long a la Mark Twain’s letter.
One of the things keeping me busy at the moment is preparing for the KOTESOL National Conference in Wonju next weekend. My workshop is entitled “Lessons from Behavioral Economics for EFL Teachers” (and you can read the abstract here if you wish). I will touch on some of themes (and add a lot more) I’ve treated on the (currently hibernating) “Teach like Freak” series on this blog. That is not my main focus today or of this blog post, however.
My focus at the moment is on delivering feedback on students’ writing. This particular round of feedback is on end of course projects and I am doing my best to provide whats I think and hope will be meaningful and helpful feedback. A series of thoughts gnawing away at my mind are “What if they don’t read this? What if they don’t care? What if they ‘checked out’ at the end of the course and this feedback is just for me to feel like a diligent professional?” Yet I soldier on. Now I’m wondering if there might some ways to better balance my effort and spend more time on the feedback for those who are interested in reading what I have to say even after the course is finished.
My amazing and earth shattering idea is…wait for it…to ask them. I’m thinking I could ask students how interested they are in the feedback that might be coming. If students say they are very interested in reading it and very interested in taking it on I might recalibrate my feedback machine and give more attention to the work of these particular students.To those students who state their lack of interest I would gladly do the minimum.
I can almost hear and even feel some readers recoil at this idea. Some might say it is not fair and all students should get a balanced amount of feedback and attention from the teacher. And that the teacher should do their best for everyone. I can see that side of it.
The idea of balance or fairness is probably not the main reason I won’t pursue this idea. I’ll probably not do it because my sense is most students would automatically tick the box which says “I want the most and most detailed feedback possible” even if they actually will not spend much time reading and considering the feedback. I think students might make this choice because they think it’s what students should do and wouldn’t want to hurt the teacher’s feelings. They also might be optimistic in thinking they will take on the feedback but might change their mind when it comes.
Another thought bouncing around for me is if students were asked to make a statement on how much they want the feedback it might have a spillover effect on how deeply they consider the feedback. My guess is if students say they want feedback it might end up being more meaningful to because the students already stated this. Just a thought, really.
I guess what I’d be interested in (in general and not just in the one instance described above) is asking students to take one small step to prove they are interested in the feedback (and honestly if they are not, that’s no problem at all) then making my decisions and time and energy allocations from there.
Come to think of it, I guess I have played around with similar ideas in the past. In a previous course I asked students to email me if they wanted my feedback on their presentations. Since it was a course on professional communications I thought the extra email practice was a good selling point. If I recall correctly, I got a feedback request on around 60% of presentations. It was fine from me and I didn’t lose any sleep over students not asking and I am sure they didn’t lose much from not getting my feedback. I had my notes ready to go even a few weeks later if they suddenly got curious. Only a few students asked for feedback every time. I think this is in and of itself interesting, just to see how how often students would take the opportunity to ask for written feedback.
Some might think I was shirking my duties but I’d argue I was just trying to meet my students’ needs as students saw them. I’d also mention there was lots of feedback swirling around the course (including peer and self-assessment and teacher feedback on spoken and written tasks) Of course some students might have been to shy to email and thus missed out on the feedback on the presentations and the opportunity to practice writing requests.
I think I can see some shades of Do Nothing Teaching (per Kevin Giddens) here. Maybe instead of providing feedback and doing stuff the default mode for teachers could be more like doing nothing until something is needed or asked for. This might help ensure the feedback falls on willing ears.
I will never do this (and certainly not this round) but it is fun to think about.