Tools to Help You Give Feedback in the Digital World

Apparently, the term originates in biology when a response comes back to an organism (Rinvalucri,1994) but coming from an engineering background, I had my own idea of the word ‘feedback’ when I first started to teach.

Having now taught English for more than 15 years, it has a different meaning to me. People study English to get feedback on their language skills, their progress and the tasks they complete. It is hard to find someone who doesn’t like or want to be corrected. After all, speaking correctly and properly is one of the reasons people attend language/skills courses.

The only problem is that most students want their teacher to correct them while teachers often have the aim of helping students to learn from their peers and be independent. Feedback is given to students at different stages of a lesson for different purposes. 
 
 Speaking Feedback?
 
Penny Ur speaks about the following six methods you can use for oral feedback and correction in her book, ‘A Course in Language Teaching (Ur, 2012)’:
 
recast, elicitation, clarification request, metalinguistic feedback, explicit correction

 
Can you think of an example for each? If you are now thinking about focusing on ‘form’ in giving feedback and correcting students, read Scott Thornbury’s post here:

 
 Content or Language?
 
Craig Thaine categorises feedback as ‘content-based’ and ‘language-focused’ in his book Teacher Training Essentials (Thaine, 2010)’.
 
It is crucial for a teacher to know when to focus on content and when on language. Watch this video to see what can happen if you focus on the wrong thing.
We should keep in mind that feedback on ‘content’ is as important as feedback on ‘language’. It shows the teacher is interested in the conversation and is ‘actively’ listening. It actually makes the student more enthusiastic to communicate with the teacher rather than just focusing on making some grammatically correct sentences.
 
 Writing Feedback?
 
There are different reasons why we teach writing and there should be different methods how we mark them to address those different reasons; but in the general sense of dealing with writing tasks in and outside the classroom, there is a lot of controversy regarding our attitude towards feedback and correction. Let’s start by having a quick look at what normally happens in a writing session.
This is what usually happens:
  1. The teacher selects the topic and gives it to the learners.
  2. The learners spend some time either in the classroom or at home to write about the topic.
  3. The learners give their ‘final product’ to the teacher for ‘final marking’.
But this doesn’t look right, does it? The main purpose of teaching is to facilitate learning but I don’t see any ‘learning to write’ points, as Christopher Tribble (Tribble 1997) mentions in his writing book. Raimes (1983) gives the following stages to make the writing process more productive:
  1. Teacher or students select the topic.
  2. Pre-writing activities e.g. note taking, brainstorming, creating spider-grams, etc.
  3. Teacher comments on the notes and makes suggestions.
  4. Student writes draft 1.
  5. Teacher and students read drafts and comment on the content.
  6. Student writes draft 2.
  7. Student reads draft 2 with guidelines and makes changes.
  8. Teacher reads draft 2 and indicates good points and areas for improvement.
  9. Student writes draft 3.
  10. Student edits and proofreads.
  11. Teacher evaluates progress.
  12. Teacher assigns follow-up tasks to help in weak areas.
In what usually happens in the classroom, the focus is more on the end product, so the learners focus on creating something and giving it to the teacher and the moment they hand their end product in, they feel they have no responsibility towards their writing any longer and it’s the teacher’s job now to work on it. 
On the contrary, the second 12-step process focuses on the ‘path’ rather than the ‘destination’ and the students will learn during the writing process.
There are different ways to edit, comment and provide feedback and just like any other form of correction, these can be done in forms of ‘self-‘, ‘peer-‘ or ‘teacher-‘ correction and editing codes can be taught at the beginning of the course to create ground rules to stick to till the end. Tricia Hedge, in her book Writing’ (Hedge, 2005: 140) mentions the following most common codes language teachers can use to mark writing tasks.
 
 Web Tools?
 
 Much has been said about editing codes and the way we can teach them in writing lessons so I am going to write about some novel methods to help you wiht editing stages in writing lessons.
The following platforms are the ones I have been using for some time. They make editing and commenting easy, fun, tech-based, green and more productive:
 
 
Audio feedback can actually help learners improve their listening skills as well and a lot of research has been conducted to prove their higher rate of productivity in comparison with ordinary written feedback. Audacity is a free open-source programme which gives you the ability to create audio files and edit them easily. There is a straightforward tutorial on how to create audio podcasts using Audacity here. Teachers can ask their learners to send their first and second drafts to them to receive quick audio feedback before they start writing the final version. While audio feedback can be a productive way to help our learners, there are a couple of tips we should keep in mind:
  • Remain positive and keep a motivating tone.
  • Sequence your feedback and signpost the feedback stages.
  • Be clear and speak with a clear voice.
  • Limit your comments and prioritise errors (just as you would do in written feedback).
  • Begin with positive feedback, be specific and descriptive while giving constructive (negative) feedback and end with positive overall feedback. (sandwich the negative points).
Audio feedback can be given in many different ways. You can even record your voice with Windows voice recorder and send it to your students, too.
If you really hate all these applications and want something hassle-free and entirely web-based, then try Online Voice Recorder or Vocaroo.
 
  • Jing– the video feedback platform
 
Jing is a free TechSmith product which can help you create screencasts and share them easily on the internet. Your casts will also be available on your screencast.com profile. TechSmith gives you 2GB free storage on Screencast and you can go Pro if this is not enough for your purposes. After you install Jing, the software’s toolbar appears on top of your desktop and can be accessed right from there while you are doing anything in any other programmes. So you can open a word document, start editing it and video the whole process for the learner to watch at a later time.
 
 
Apple’s QuickTime Player which is also available for PC users has some new and unique features which have made life easy for Mac users. Just launch QuickTime, double-finger tap the icon in the dock and click on ‘new screen recording’ (you can also create ordinary voice or video recordings using your Mac camera.) and the application starts recording your screen. You can also talk on the recording at the same time to create a high-resolution video feedback. When you are done, click on ‘stop screen recording’ and choose the quality you need and the file is ready!
 
  • Knovio– the video feedback platform
 
If you have some time and want to create something really impressive, this is where you should look for it. Create a presentation of the feedback, play the presentation and use a camera to add your own video to the feedback. So your learners have the chance to see the online edition of their work being corrected while they can watch their teacher talking about it at the same time. Knovio has an iPad app which gives you the same functions there as well. It is primarily an application to help you add your video to your presentations which is a very useful tool for flipped classes but can also be used to provide extraordinary feedback video files!
 
  • Kaizena– the ultimate feedback platform
 
Kaizen means ‘good change’ in Japanese and is some sort of philosophy towards continuous improvement. This innovative online tool works seamlessly with Google Drive and Google Docs. If your learners send you first drafts through Google Drive, then this is the tool you shouldn’t miss. You can work on the documents on their website or you can add their add-on to your Google Drive and work on documents right within Google Docs. In Kaizena you can highlight parts of the document and record your voice in small segments. Kaizena has even taken a step forward and creates unique teacher URLs and this means the learners can request feedback on a specific part of their document and an e-mail is sent to the teacher to come back to the file and give the feedback the student needs. This is a two-way platform which means the students can listen to the audio feedback and record their own voice and reply to the teacher’s comment.
 
  • Gmail
 
Google Drive has already given us a lot of features to help with teacher’s feedback. You can now edit Word documents directly from your mailbox without having to convert anything.
 
  • Microsoft Office
 
     The Word’s ‘track changes’ and ‘compare documents’ features are fantastic tools for language teachers when it comes to error correction and feedback. ‘Track changes’ has several customisable features including colour-coding. Click on the ‘review’ tab in a Word document and you will see this in the middle. ‘Compare documents’ gives the learners the opportunity to compare the text they have written with a model text in a writing lesson or to compare their answers to an activity with the answer key. This feature can also be found in the ‘review’ tab in a Word document. The usual ‘comment’ feature can also help add notes to the text just like what we do on a piece of paper. Don’t forget that the whole process in a Word document can be recorded using any of the methods we have talked about here.
 
All teachers agree that effective feedback is time-consuming but no one can deny their value to our learners. We are very lucky to have all these ‘tech’ tools which make effective feedback easier than it used to be in the past (but most probably still more difficult than in the future!). So why not take the risk and leave our comfort paper zone and help save the planet while improving our feedback effectiveness in our writing lessons?
 
Bibliography:
  • Hedge, T. (2005) ‘Writing’ Second Edition, Oxford University Press
  • Rinvolucri, M. (1994). Key Concepts in ELT ELT Journal Volume 48/3 July 1994, Oxford University Press
  • Raimes, A. (1983) ‘Techniques in Teaching Writing’, Oxford University Press
  • Thaine, C. (2010) ‘Teacher Training Essentials- Cambridge Copy Collections’, Cambridge University Press
  •  Thornbury, S. (2006) ‘An A-Z of ELT’, Macmillan Books for Teachers, Macmillan
  • Ur, P. (2012) ‘A Course in English Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press
  • Tribble, C. (1997) ‘Writing’, Oxford University Press
  • http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/conducting-feedback-exercises-tasks
 

 

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