Feedback is an important part of formative assessment and is an area of classroom teaching which students benefit from and comment upon favourably in terms of sense of progress. However, providing effective feedback can be extra challenging in remote lessons. In this new conversation about assessment, we talked about feedback with Oliver Sandon, Master Lead for English without Borders in Colombia, a large-scale remote teaching project of the British Council. He is in charge of ensuring high quality lessons are delivered.

Effective feedback

While what constitutes effective feedback can vary from one student to another, Oliver shared some clues as to what it entails:

  • It should be meaningful. This can be achieved by gathering examples of feedback that students have produced themselves, whether written or spoken, and by relating it to how it may be useful to learners in actually using the language outside the classroom, in their context, taking into consideration their learning goals. This will likely make it more useful and memorable.
  • It should develop students' self-awareness. Effective feedback helps learners to progress and to reflect on their learning, for which they need to be involved in the feedback process. Getting them to work things out through eliciting techniques is one way to do this.
  • It should be timely and regular. There is a tendency to provide feedback at the end of a lesson in open class. If we integrate short feedback episodes at different points of a class instead, it becomes more effective. 

Challenges in remote teaching

Providing effective feedback can be extra challenging in remote lessons. The obvious difficulty is getting around the learners quickly and efficiently and seeing and hearing English in productive activities. In a physical classroom, we can walk around, monitor and  micro-teach as necessary, helping students with language and collecting information to share with the whole class afterwards, so it’s easier to react to their needs. In the remote teaching context of English without Borders classes are taught through zoom, so this will generally happen while monitoring in breakout rooms. 

When you are monitoring breakout rooms you don’t know what students in other rooms are doing. You can run the risk of spending too much time with one group and not paying equal attention to all students. Students don’t see the teacher around and they don’t benefit from eavesdropping on other groups.

Practical tips to provide effective feedback in remote lessons:

The following suggestions are strategies to address the challenges discussed in the previous section:

  1. Identify emergent language and ideas to share in open class. Students can’t see their other classmates while in breakout rooms, so they aren’t benefiting from their production. Bringing emergent language and ideas to the plenary feedback session becomes more meaningful and necessary.
  2. Provide feedback in a student-centred way. Have students self-correct, elicit right answers, use student-generated examples, which could have words missing so you can approach it through questioning and eliciting.  
  3. Balance feedback on content and language. Not only focus on errors, notice good ideas, good techniques to share with everybody. Provide a range of lexical input and give students extra words and expressions that may relate to a task they have been working on. 
  4. When focusing on language, make sure you address form, meaning and phonology. 
  5. Monitor as systematically as you can going around breakout rooms and trying to spread attention as evenly as possible. Use of a timer on the computer is good to keep track of how long you are in a breakout room.
  6. Make strategic decisions on whether to have the camera on. Keeping the camera off can be less intrusive, but you might decide to switch it on when you want them to pay attention to you to give them feedback or provide support. Students tend to start talking to the teacher when the camera is on, so this decision will certainly affect student interaction.
  7. Make immediate correction through verbal interjections and through the use of the chat box, which is also effective for less ‘intrusive’ corrections as it doesn’t interrupt the flow. For example, you can use it to provide vocabulary they need or record emerging language. 
  8. Gather data. Either using the lesson slides, the digital whiteboard, a traditional notepad or other digital tools such as Padlet or Jamboard, it is important to gather data on what you see and hear so you can bring this back to the plenary feedback session and share afterwards. Keeping this record helps prepare feedback to show students and avoids writing everything in real time when in plenary.
  9. Use visual support. Related to the previous point, some kind of visual support helps scaffold the feedback sessions and this can often be supplemented by comments and words written on the chat. Students need to be able to see the examples.

Overall, Oliver believes that even though feedback is greatly appreciated by students and a key aspect of teaching practice, giving effective feedback is generally overlooked in teacher training as the focus tends to be on methodologies and how to present. He invites us to emphasise it and take it into account when lesson planning, making sure it’s an integral part of our lessons. 

If you haven’t yet, check out our two-part conversation with Tom Booth about different aspects of assessment to keep reflecting about the subject: 

If you want to keep learning about feedback in online learning, watch these talks on the subject with further practical ideas and examples of useful digital tools to assist the feedback process: