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Three ways to get student feedback

Heads of Languages these days have to have processes in place to evaluate the performance of their department. Sources of information include value-added measures from the likes of Raiseonline, FFT, Yellis and ALPS, internal assessment scores, lesson observations and what are fashionably known as "learning walks".

Students themselves provide another source of useful feedback for self-evaluation. Many schools do this on a whole school basis, for example, using a private survey organisation. Such surveys produce satisfaction levels for each department.

But there are other ways of eliciting student feedback and I'm going to mention three of them.

Focus groups

It is easy to gather a small cross-section of students to ask them about their experience of language learning. Although in this format students may tend to say what they think the teacher wants to hear, they do provide useful feedback if the questions you ask are good ones.

You could take out the teacher factor by using sixth-formers to ask the questions, but they would be less skilled at delving deeper into answers.

Student diaries

You could get a selection of students (or whole classes?) to keep a diary of their lessons over a given period, say three weeks. They could record what they did in lessons, what they enjoyed and what they found useful. Diaries could be anonymous, although there are obvious dangers with this. The advantage of the diary approach is that students would be providing a more detailed reflection than the kind of information they might give using a tick box approach.

Students would need to be carefully briefed and asked to focus on activity types and why they found them useful or otherwise. You would get them to reflect on the language learning process - this is useful in itself. You would advise them, of course, not to focus on remarks about their teachers.

Class questionnaires

These can be set departmentally of by the individual class teacher. The former approach feels more "top down". The latter may be preferable.

A free Survey Monkey questionnaire could be produced online. These analyse the responses for you and allow for a range of question types (multi-choice - single or multiple answers, yes/no questions, written answers).

Alternatively, an A4 sheet with a series of agree/disagree questions, boxes to tick or numerical grading score might work well and be quick to analyse. Here are some questions you could ask at KS3:

Rate how useful and how “enjoyable” to you the following activities are. Use a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 equals leas:

Repeating all together for pronunciation 
Answering the teacher’s questions with hands up 
Answering the teacher's questions with no hands up 
Doing a comprehension task with the CD 
Doing a pairwork oral task
Learning vocabulary for a test
Doing a written grammar exercise
Playing a language game
Memorising a short talk
Doing a dictation
Doing an interactive computer activity
Copying down grammar notes
Watching a video
Listening to the teacher talk in English about cultural information
Translating

What do you find easiest about language learning?
What do you find hardest?
Are there any activities you think you should do more of?
Does your teacher have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses?

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To conclude, although student surveys, focus groups and diaries might produce surprising information, and while they may confirm the hypothesis that students are different and have different preferences, my hunch is that good teachers can reasonably predict the outcomes of such feedback. This is probably one reason they are good.

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