“In the context of teaching in general, feedback is information that is given to the learner about his or her performance of a learning task, usually with the objective of improving this performance”. (Ur, 1996:242)
What is the objective of feedback then? To make sure learners completed the task or to help them improve their performance? Unfortunately, for most of us, it is the former option that counts. As Cotterall puts it, “Many language teachers are convinced of the importance of incorporating principles of learner autonomy into their practice.” (Cotterall, 2000: 109) If this is the case in most of our classes, why do we ignore the idea of autonomy when it comes to feedback?
Most probably, it is the time issue that determines the aim of feedback and the way we give it. When we go for the fastest way of feedback, it generally is the whole class feedback. It will only take a couple of minutes for one to have an overall idea of what the class did. How about the individuals? Who benefits from a chorus vocalizing the answers?
Personally, I’m one of those who are against the idea of whole class feedback. First of all, it is not motivating and only the strongest learners participate. It also prevents the teacher from understanding who made a mistake in which question and if the students are not brave enough to ask for an explanation, they won’t even know why they made a mistake. In her ‘Alternatives to Whole Class Feedback’, Amanda Gamble asserts that “One of the drawbacks of whole class, teacher-led feedback is that there is little chance for the students to discuss their answers. For feedback to be effective and worthwhile, students need the opportunity to talk about their answers so that they can see why the correct answer is right and why the incorrect one is wrong.” (Gamble, 2007: 78-81)
Although teachers mostly have a say in the feedback process, I’m more positive about student-driven feedback. As long as you and your learners get used to some alternatives to chorus vocalization, it won’t also take too much time. Alternative Student-Centred Feedback Methods can be suggested as follows;
a) Chain feedback: Learners nominate each other to answer the forthcoming question. This is one of my favourites as it keeps the TTT to a minimum and you avoid nominating the same learners again and again.
b) Playing ‘teacher’: An early bird acts as the teacher and gives feedback. (Seeing him/her using your feedback methods is even icing on the cake)
c) Writing on the board: This works well when accuracy is important in the activity. You may nominate the learners to write their answers on the board or they may even nominate each other as in the ‘chain feedback’. It is worth giving a try in kinaesthetic classes.
d) Sharing the feedback: Teacher provides two different answer keys to Student A and Student B. Each piece of paper has answers to different parts or questions so that the pair may work together to work out the answers.
e) Posted answers: Teacher may also post the answers on the classroom walls for learners to check them. This one is again suitable for learners who don’t like sitting at a desk all lesson.
f) Find Someone Who: Classical “find someone who” game can be designed as ‘Find Someone Who Has a Mistake’. In this way, individuals will have checked different learners’ answers and there will be a natural discussion and peer correction atmosphere in class.
Knowles (1975) also maintained that “there is convincing evidence that people who take the initiative in learning (pro-active learners) learn more things and learn better than do people who sit at the feet of teachers, passively waiting to be taught (reactive learners).” Therefore, above mentioned techniques will no doubt activate learner autonomy in the most crucial level of a lesson; feedback.
On the other hand, there might be some teachers who may well think whole class teacher-driven feedback is more effective. The advantages and disadvantages of classical whole class teacher-driven feedback can be listed as follows;
- It saves time.
- It is loud and will wake the sleepers up.
- It is more suitable for drilling and phonological accuracy.
- Teacher controls the process which results an increase in TTT.
- It is hard to differentiate who made a mistake.
- Weaker learners do not actively participate. It is generally the brave hearts who dominate it.
- It doesn’t leave much room for discussion.
- Learners do not learn, they just check the answers.
- There is no personal exchange of ideas. Interaction pattern is stable (open-class).
- It doesn’t give a clear idea of how to plan beyond the lesson. (Feedback is the most important tool for a Teacher to determine the follow-up areas.)
As a conclusion, I must restate that while learner-autonomy has been an ELT trend recently, it is surprising that there is not much study about learner-autonomy in feedback process. Consequently, I wanted to propose some alternative approaches to getting feedback in your language class. Changing the classical teacher-driven feedback methods with more student-centred ones will make the process more beneficial and communicative.