Many educational organizations invest considerable amounts of money into “building” Learning Management Systems (L.M.S.) or similar platforms to facilitate learning and engage learners. Yet, their full potential is often unexplored or underexploited by teachers. The following post suggests two ways in which such systems can be used to support peer feedback; engage learners in process writing; help strengthen bonds in class and share common goals.
Students often present their projects in the form of powerpoint presentations. However, due to time constraints, they receive feedback only by the teacher while the audience has no say in that. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that quite a few students pay no attention or find the whole process boring. This year, I thought I had to do something about it so I created a discussion forum and asked students to provide feedback at the end of each presentation. I explained that the basic idea behind this activity is to make the presenters aware of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their presentation skills before they have to do it in front of professionals at their work. I stressed the fact that this is a classroom and we all share a common goal: to ensure that the level of English of all the students meets the standards and criteria of local and international companies in Greece and abroad.
Even though, the learners are primary school pupils (4th and 5th graders), they seemed to grasp the rationale and one of them told me that her sister who is an adult has to do presentations in English very often at her job. I made clear that I will not tolerate any foul language and that we can all become better as a class if we use peer feedback.
At the end of the first presentation, I gave the audience a few minutes to post their comments which needed to cover strong areas and areas to work on. I saw a marked difference in the learner engagement. They all paid attention and enjoyed the fact that their opinion was deemed useful and appreciated by the presenter. The only point I had not predicted was that most of them responded with emoticons.
At the end of the session, I was happy that all the students had participated but was a bit puzzled about how to make their feedback more constructive. It occurred to me that it is only natural for young people to react with emojis because this is what they do in their -outside the classroom – life. So the next day, I thanked them for their participation but in a discreet way I expressed my concern about emoticons: “Smiles and thumbs up are a nice way to show the presenters that you liked their work but, unfortunately, they can’t know what it was exactly that you liked. For instance, was it the photos, the text, or the way they organized it?”
Contrary to my worries, my comment went down well and the next time, they tried to be more specific despite the linguistic limitations they have at this level (A1-A2 C.E.F.R.). What struck me most, was a student who would otherwise scarcely engage in classroom activities. She had read carefully all the comments on her presentation and asked me: “Why does X student say that he loved the font I used while Y students says that I need to change it?” The explanation was easy. The specific font looks great if you sit near at the front but at the back of the room it is hard to read. The fact that she had read carefully the comments which were written in English and she was actively involved in the whole process was an unexpected reward for me.
Then I felt that I could try the same with paragraph writing. After teaching the basic structure of a paragraph, I asked my pupils to write a paragraph giving their opinion on a topic we had discussed in class, on the L.M.S. I created a discussion forum and asked them to write it there. Early the next day I read them and gave them feedback on the same discussion forum which is visible only by the class members.
The majority of my students were thrilled. We read some of the paragraphs in class and analyzed briefly why some were very good and how others could be improved.
Some pupils asked me if they could read the paragraphs written by their peers and write comments. The answer was positive on condition that they would not use emoticons and that the comments would help writers.
Some students continued using emoticons but they did it to emphasize the comments they had made using lexical items. The whole process was received with enthusiasm both from pupils and parents who saw their children engaging into learning.
I felt that the feedback pupils had from their peers acted as acknowledgement and motivated them to be actively involved in the process.
Some students whose paragraphs were not up to standard, gradually improved their writing thanks to the discussions in class which raised their awareness and to the exposure to different forms of writing styles.
A positive atmosphere that created a secure environment – only constructive feedback was welcome – and the shared vision of achieving the learning goal as a class contributed to learner motivation and engagement and helped peers to build stronger bonds as a group.
Hope you enjoy these activities with your students!