Tips for Writing Effective Higher Level Feedback
In case you hadn’t figured this out yet, writing feedback for the higher levels is very different from levels two and three (or even Pre-VIPKID). Often times, I have had other teachers comment on how much they like my feedback for higher levels, so here are my tips and tricks for writing awesome higher level feedback!
Think About the Student
First of all, make sure to consider if your feedback is appropriate for the student and their level. Think about their age, English abilities, and even their purpose for learning English. With higher level students, you can use more complex language as well as include more specific and detailed information about the class. Also, it would make sense if the student has a mid to high level English proficiency, they might read your feedback in English. For me, I don’t worry as much about words getting mixed up in the translation process. With lower level students, I try to keep my language simple and to the point so it translates better into Chinese.
Thinking about these factors helps you structure your feedback so it is meaningful for both the student and parents. With the older and higher level students, they will most likely be reading the feedback, too! It won’t just be the parent. Be careful how you word things that could come across as overly critical or negative. I am not saying keep it all rainbows and unicorns and never talk about areas for improvement, but if I were a higher level student who was working my butt off in class and read something mean or insensitively worded about myself, I would be crushed. I just want tp caution you to be sensitive to word choice and phrasing.
Something else to consider is many of these older students are preparing for their high school, and even college, entrance exams. If they don’t do well on these tests, they will not get into a good school. Unlike most American and European education systems, there are no do over for these kids. They get one shot at getting into a good school – and that’s it. I am always amazed when I have a student who takes classes at 9:30 PM BJT. They have already had a full day of school, multiple hours of homework, and even extra curricular activities, and they are still taking English classes at 9:30 PM. To me, this is true dedication.
1. Restate the Learning Objective
I start all my higher level feedbacks (and many lower levels, too!) with restating the learning objective in my own words. To be honest, I am a creature of habit and like to keep the same basic structure for all my feedbacks. Additionally, I find this acts as a nice summary of the big ideas in the lesson. Like many teachers, I also include some sort of greeting and praise for the student.
Here is my opening for a level six lesson called “Let’s Solve Problems”:
Today Baobao practiced visualizing what he read, creating pictures in his mind, and walking in the character’s shoes. He did a wonderful job! He is a hardworking student and focused well during the lesson.
Here was the learning objective provided by VIPKID:
I will be able to visualize what I read, create pictures in mind, and walk in the character’s shoes.
As you can see, I mostly wrote my restatement of the learning objective verbatim based on the original. I didn’t have to change a whole lot except for the pronouns. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in something nice about the student. You gotta work for those apples!
Are you interested in learning more about learning objectives? Check out my blog post about them here.
2. Review the Unit Vocabulary (especially Academic Vocabulary)
Almost without fail, I always include important vocabulary words. Each lesson introduces new vocabulary words and, this way, the student has easy access to the new words they are learning.
In the higher levels, students are making the transition from learning to read English to reading to learn in English. This includes learning academic vocabulary words like character, setting, plot, describe, and simile. It is one thing to be conversationally fluent in a language; it is a whole other thing to be able to communicate complex ideas in an academic setting. Most people have a hard time doing that in their native language, let alone in a second one.
Baobao did a good job with cause and effect. She was able to state the reason and result for each of the scenarios as well as match the parts together. She learned these new vocabulary words: [mixture], [dissolve], and [solution].
Including the vocabulary words lays the foundation for the next type of information I like to include in my feedback.
3. Summarize Important Content Areas
Most of the time, the higher level lessons will include some sort of story or informational text, which uses the new vocabulary words. I try to connect the unit vocabulary words to the text they read in class.
Baobao did well reading an informational text called [Physical Changes in Matter: Mixtures], which used these new vocabulary words. After the reading, she did a great job answering the comprehension questions. She has improved a lot with her speaking skills. Some words she can practice reading are: [dissolve], [condenses], [combining], and [powder].
This is also an excellent place to include any words the student should practice reading or saying; additionally, I summarize key parts of the lesson like grammar, phonics, and math. There is a fine balance between TMI (too much information) and TLI (too little information). Here are some ways to make sure you include the right balance.
First of all, I try to be cognizant of my word choice. I don’t need to keep saying phrases like “in the lesson” or “today”. This is already implied. Leaving out these phrases helps cut down on unnecessary words. I also try watch how often I use the student’s name versus using a pronoun. I tend to use the student’s name at the beginning of the paragraph and then use pronouns for the rest. For what it’s worth, I personally think it flows better; sometimes, it can sound awkward to switch too often between pronouns and the student’s name in the same paragraph.
Secondly, whenever possible, I try to combine sentences together. For example, here are two sentences that could easily be combined:
Baobao did a great job reading the story about making new friends! He also did well discussing what happened in the story.
This is a simple way to combine these two sentences:
Baobao did a great job reading and discussing what happened in the story about making new friends!
The revised sentence is much clearer and to the point than the one above it. This is also a really easy way to improve your sentence fluency and structure.
5. Student’s Strengths
Who doesn’t love to know what they did well on? Try to sprinkle in positives throughout the feedback, but definitely end with an moment where the student shined. Keep in mind, people remember what they read last the best, so if you end with something negative, that might be the last impression the parent will have of you. Every student does at least one thing well. Try to always find the positive in every student, even your most challenging.
6. Areas to Practice
I mixed in areas to practice with my positives. Some teachers worry that including areas for improvement could be taken the wrong way, but I don’t think this type of feedback is inherently negative; it does, however, depend on how you word things. That’s why it’s a good idea to alternate strengths and weaknesses. I tend to make sentence sandwiches that go: strength, practice, strength.
For your high level students, they really want to know what they can work on. Remember, they are trying to prepare for a single test, which can ultimately impact the rest of their lives. Be specific in your comments. Don’t just say Baobao should practice reading. What specifically about reading should they work on? Do they tend to mispronounce past tense verbs ending in ‘-ed’? Do they keep dropping the ‘-s’ on the ends of words? Maybe they leave out articles before nouns. Even the highest level students still have things they can work on. If their grammar and pronunciation are excellent, have them work on incorporating more figurative or idiomatic language into their speech. This is challenging to even native English speakers!
Some teachers will even refer back to specific slides the student can practice. The students have copies of the lesson powerpoint in their VIPKID workbooks, so they can refer back to the slides after class.
Baobao does a good job remember what she reads and gives lot of details with her answers. A few words she can practice are: [for], [exercises], and [lower]. When reading, she should look at the end of each word and make sure to say all the sounds. She will sometimes leave off the [-er] or [-s] sound on the end of certain words. Please have her refer back to the story on slides 12-15, so she can practice reading each word with its appropriate ending sound.
The parent really seemed to appreciate this type of feedback. I even had a parent leave teacher feedback commenting about it!
7. Discussion/Free Talk/Something Unique
One of the ways I personalize my templates is by always including something unique that the student either did or talked about in class. For more information on this topic, check out my blog post here on personalizing your templates!
When I first started teaching, sometimes the stars didn’t always work right; as a result, I got into the habit of including how many stars Baobao earned during class at the end of my feedback. Even though now the stars seem to work correctly 99.99% of the time, I still like to include this information in my closing. I also like to include how the student did in class.
Baobao did a wonderful job in class and earned all five stars! Thank you for booking class with me. I hope to see him again soon! – Teacher Caryn EU
I like to keep my closings short and to the point. I always thank the parent for booking a class with me, but I don’t always say that I want to see their student again. If it seemed like I didn’t connect with the student, or they had behavioral issues, I will often just thank the parent for booking a class and leave it at that.
To ask for feedback? Or not to ask for feedback?
Check out my post on asking for Parent Feedback
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about how I write higher level feedback!
Teacher Caryn EU