Learning a foreign language can be a difficult thing for many kids. Not all are gifted with the motivation to learn French, Spanish, Chinese or Japanese in a linguistic context that is not the one of the mother tongue. Many times, the students that populate our classroom didn’t make the choice of the language we are teaching them. Perhaps their parents choose for them, or maybe there simply not enough alternatives for them to choose one. Motivation being a key element to language learning, how can we address the need of these kids? How can we follow up on their learning, and more importantly, how can we support them in times of trouble ? Knowing your students well is central to teaching, but giving them the appropriate feedback, at the time they need it, is just as important. A colleague of mine often says that “To teach is to give feedback”. For the overachieving to the struggling students, may that be in primary or secondary school, here are a few ways to give feedbacks to your students.
The traditional way to give feedback when reviewing a text that your students wrote is often reduced to a few scribbling lines in the margins of the text. To help my student improve their writing skills, I put together a code that I use to mark their texts. I start by underlining the error, and then I write above it a letter matching the category the mistake belong to (G = grammar, S = spelling, SY = syntaxe, P= punctuation, etc). When I give them their texts back, I ask my students to analyse the types of errors that they made, before correcting them. On top of it, I summarise the good things that the text achieves, along with the few things to correct. I always try to see the good, not the bad.
THE POST-IT THEORY
I attended a workshop a few years back, where the presenter suggested to use Post-it to write down feedback in the middle of the lesson. Having a comment written to them (sometimes, just a few words) has a stronger impact is more likely to be retained by the kids than a simple oral suggestion (which is often forgotten instantly or poorly remembered).
A KIND WORD GOES A LONG WAY
Most of the time (especially with the lowest grades or with beginners), I try to give mainly positive feedback. As a foreign language teacher, I want to inspire students to do good things, and te feel great about learning a new language. As I wrote previously, I believe that being motivated to learn a language plays a great role in the success that the learner will experience in class and in later life with that language. How many times did I hear adults says thing like: “I can’t learn a language, I don’t have the brain for it”. Most of the time, this kind of idea has its roots in poor feedback that I language teacher gave to this student. Everybody can learn a new language (some people even learn many!!). Your students should realise that. And you, as a teacher, should motivate them with positive feedback! That’s the least you could do, no?
ADAPT YOUR FEEDBACK TO YOUR STUDENT
No kids are alike, therefore the method that you choose to address them should be equally different. Boys like to walk while they talk, so why don’t you go to the cafeteria with a student if you have something important to tell him. On the other hand, girls tend to prefer sitting down for a chat. And sometimes it’s the other way around! The only way you can give the appropriate feedback is to know your students well enough to taylor the way that you address them. Some like a paper trace, some would rather talk directly to you if something comes up. Some will participate more if a parent is in the loop, some other won’t. Talk to your students, know them well. You’ll avoid all kind of trouble, and you will support them better.