Giving feedback to your online ESL students doesn’t mean judging or assessing their skills, that’s what tests and quizzes are for. Feedback means giving constructive criticism and praise in order for them to improve.
Giving effective feedback will help them get the scores they need. It also creates a positive atmosphere and motivates students to succeed and helps them to realize their potential.
In this article, I want to focus on giving feedback as an online ESL tutor. In this context, you will have one-on-one lessons, a short time frame, and consecutive lessons with no break or short break in between.
These types of lessons are like speed dating where you talk to someone for 5 minutes and then onto the next one. Who can think about something constructive to say at that pace!? At this pace, it’s hard to give quality feedback.
You can be left at the end of the day with another hour of feedback notes to write. This can be overwhelming and result in perfunctory comments that don’t help the student to progress.
What makes good feedback?
Be specific and concrete. After every online lesson, you generally have to include feedback about the student’s participation. In addition, you will have to speak to what they can improve on. However, you also have to give them useful information for improvement.
Simply writing “participation was good, pronunciation practice is needed” is too vague. This will leave them grappling with what they need to do next. They need a clear explanation of their errors and steps to take to correct them.
You have to be specific about what’s wrong and provide recommendations. For example, if you correct them when they say “many informations”, they may not make that mistake again. However, it’s important to give some clear explanation of grammar rules such as countable and non-countable nouns to help them to avoid making these mistakes in the future.
Be Practical With Your Feedback
In some online teaching platforms, you aren’t paid for the lesson until you give written feedback. You are usually given 48 hours to provide it.
This means giving feedback in a timely manner so that the ideas are still fresh in students’ minds. Make the chatbox your best friend. Most online platforms have a chatbox, and you should write as many notes as you can during the lesson.
Type in new vocabulary as it comes up, grammar mistakes, keep track of topics covered. You can go back afterward and give more detailed notes. However, if you forget what you talked about with the student then it’s pointless.
The notes are also there for the student to refer to as well. Some lessons are recorded. However, it’s easier to skim through notes than to go back and listen to the entire lesson again. In your detailed feedback, you should give a summary of the lesson, like minutes of a meeting.
This can help you keep track of things covered and track progress. You can give detailed explanations of grammar rules and share useful links and apps for practicing.
When and How Much?
Timing and amount of feedback when teaching a lesson online is key. A couple of things to consider is whether the activity is about fluency or accuracy.
For fluency activities, it’s best not to interrupt the lesson to give feedback. An example is speaking activities. This is when you can utilize the chatbox or take notes as the student is speaking. For accurate activities – correct in the middle and give a summary at the end.
What to Correct
There are four main types of errors that need to be pointed out when the student males them; either on the spot or after the lesson:
- Pronunciation or grammar errors that hinder communication in a significant way.
Something involves the target language of the lesson. For example, a lesson or activity on regular and irregular past tense verbs and a student says “I lost my phone”.
- Errors that are related to something that was studied in a previous lesson.
- Errors that the student should not be making for their level. High intermediate students should not be making errors in the simple past tense, for example.
If you have regular students online, you will likely be responsible for writing monthly progress reports. Go back over your notes that you took during the lesson. Or, have a brief review with the student. Most likely it involves giving them a proficiency score out of 6 or 8 on each skill with a short progress report. This feedback should be constructive and positive and give them a clear idea and the motivation to keep learning.