About a fortnight ago I posted I was planning this year’s Stop-Start-Continue feedback from students – anyone B2 on the CEFR and above – in classes providing me with feedback on the courses so far, now that we are nearly three months into the courses. With 2020 being…2020, I wasn’t sure what changes/differences there would be, but as always, I found it very helpful. Here, I’ve provided my feedback and how that will change the teaching. As always, there was a few things I didn’t expect but in hindsight should have been 2020 (that’s not a pun on the year…).
Overall I got feedback from nearly 50 students from 5 different classes, all either Upper Intermediate or Advanced level, with around 30 of them working towards their CAE exam this year, while the rest were in general English classes. This was the first ’round’ of S-S-C this year, I’ll be doing it again with the same classes in February and May.
As always, the first round of Stops tend to be very little, as people don’t really know what to write and it’s still early into the course. Generally by the next two rounds, so February and May, people have a much more general idea of the courses and how it’s taught, therefore may have more to say, especially if there is an exam at the end of the year. This time around, there isn’t much to report here. Of course, that instead gives the students ideas (young and old!) to quote song lyrics as opposed to giving feedback, this year highlights include, “Don’t stop, Belieeeeeeeeeeeeeeving! Ah ha ha” (the feedback did in fact contain the laugh written down), “Don’t stop me now!”, “Can’t Stop” and “Don’t Stop.” Obviously the Journey and Queen lyrics always go down well!
These were interesting as there was a major difference in what everyone wanted from the classes. If it was general English classes, people (3 or 4 mentioned it) wanted more extended writing. To date, they had completed one email and one essay, which for general Englishes classes one major writing homework a month is the norm, although that can easily be changed. As the general classes are also either university students or working adults, they do have different goals from the teen exam classes and homework in those classes have a 100% completion rate every time.
Another point the adult learners (non-exam) brought up was the use of more video in class. I have several classes that I’ve ‘created’ myself using TED talks, short video such as those on Film English, and one of my personal favourites Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom. These have went down well so far, it’s nice to see there is a request for more of them, generally I’d do a ‘completely out of the book’ class once a fortnight so glad to see its working.
The big take away from the S-S-C feedback pages (or emails) this year has been one I probably underestimated and obviously need to be more aware of, even in a B2/C1 class. 2020 has come with a lot of things, one of them, which is a part of daily life is that of masks. Learning pronunciation, speaking, and even listening to clear instructions needs thought of more this year through a mask, and especially if the students have never heard an Irish accent before, even if it is my ‘teacher voice’. Four of the students in the feedback pages have mentioned slowing down my speech in class, as behind a mask it is much harder to understand. This is a completely fair point, as by now, December 2020, as normal as masks are now, we have almost forgotten we are wearing them while we work. As obvious as it seems now that the matter has been brought up, it is certainly something to be aware of in every class and speech grading, even at the higher levels, needs to be considered more this year, as no one has ever seen my mouth in those classes (although on the up side, they’ve also never seen my three chins).
The continue section of the S-S-C feedback form is always the nice one – that’s why we leave it to the end! Where the other two options are part of the feedback sandwich of things that can be improved, the Continue section is normally the good news bit, showing you what has worked in classes so far.
This year, the highlights include:
- To keep telling the students about idioms, phrases, stories and events happening in Ireland that they can see for free online, or on services online, for example Derry Girls on Netflix or Father Ted. Every single one of my students know that when they walk in the door, to be as natural as possible, I’m not going to say, “Hello, how are you?” as that in no way sounds natural to me, instead, they are greeted with “What’s the craic?” and they know to reply with, “I’m grand.” And they do this to me also, so they would fit right in, if they visited Donegal or Derry! It’s one of those little things that keep the class more light hearted and, for want of a better term, to have a ‘bit of craic’ in class.
- A recommendation, per class, which the students can check out in their free time then come back to class and discuss. This is usually an article, video, TED Talk, film, book, short story or something that I’ve come across that week that I think they’d find interesting or useful.
- Using research in class. This was an interesting one that came from several students which was a pleasant surprise. If something has come up in class (and since I’m an English teacher with two masters it generally does) that I have academic experience or knowledge about, I would explain with some of the research the thinking behind a specific point – for example that your morality changes in your L2, or why English can be so difficult to learn because of the other languages it is built upon. This seems to have gone down well with students which is nice to see.
- Non-exam class adults are also pretty keen on homework which is an interesting change for me, especially since here they currently have a 100% completion rate, even those who have been absent from a previous class, so fair play to them!
- For both exam and non-exam classes, the video feedback emails seem to be pretty popular this year, it is still my first school year using them and they could certainly be improved from the content I’ve sent so far, but we’re all still learning. It’s nice to see this is the popular approach to feedback.
Overall, all things considered, the Stop-Start-Continue system always brings up interesting things to think about in class. What is working, what isn’t working, and what needs polished and thought about going forward. When I type this blog up, there will be literally every human being reading it thinking “Surely it was obvious wearing a mask means further grading of language even at higher levels” but once we get used to wearing things and don’t notice it any more, maybe I simply forgot I had one. When I think back to May/June time when I first ventured out into the big bad Covid world after lockdown, I certainly recall speaking slower and clearer, so perhaps it became natural after a while to not notice the masks, who knows. But it’s certainly something that will be changed in future classes. Much more damage would be done if it wasn’t considered, and if I hadn’t asked the students for feedback.
The S-S-C feedback method is a quick, easy and effective method of gaining feedback from the students in the room – those that are literally paying our wages, so I find it highly effective and useful to plan these. Most students take to them pretty positively as well since it’s their voice being heard privately in regards to their learning and their classes. I would highly recommend it and look forward to using it again in the future.