EFL Teacher Progress Check: adult language learners

kungfuSomewhere, in one of the training manuals I read a long time ago, I found the steps teachers go through on their way to becoming great instructors and I've got this posted up on my wall for reflection.

1. The unconscious incompetent
We do not know that we do not know. We're doing a crap job yet when the students don't learn, we blame them.

They simply aren't interested,
we cry.
They have too many other obligations, we excuse.
It's not my fault.

2. The conscious incompetent

We know that what's occurring in our classes isn't working -that our students aren't getting it and that it probably has to do something with the way we're teaching... but we're not entirely sure how to fix the problems.

3. The unconscious competent
The students are learning! Whoohoo, the magic is occurring - they're reusing the vocabulary in context, their fluency is fantastic... but... er, how on earth did we get here??

Why this class and not the one after this one?

We're not able to put a finger on what it is that is, exactly, that's working so well.

4. The conscious competent
Through self-reflection and awareness of what and how we are teaching, we achieve a level of mastery in our teaching practice.

We know what works, what doesn't for each (or most) of our students and we're able to provide them with the keys to successful language learning.

- . -

While reaching no.4 is the goal of any great teacher, it also contains the added danger of slipping right on back down to step 1, especially if we're not actively involved in our professional development: conscientiously reading the latest methodology books and articles - attending workshops, taking part in webinars and going to conferences.

However, don't worry, this post isn't about lecturing you... my blog's not really about that - is simply my public journey into becoming a better language teacher and teacher trainer and sharing the stuff I learn with you along the way.

In fact, today, I'm going to show you that I am not The Perfect Teacher and despite 15 years on the job, still have areas to work on.

I chose one of my smaller groups, made up of two students who're not easy for me to teach - although we get on well - to give me feedback on my training and our lessons and I asked if we could film it.

I asked them if they'd not only be okay with us recording the session (cutting them out of the frame) but also if they'd be comfortable being completely honest.

They were.

These are my usual questions to language learners at the end of one course/ 'renew' start:

1. What was your overall impression of the course?
2. Did you think the course was appropriately designed for your needs?
3. In your opinion, how flexible or structured were our training sessions?
4. What were some of the lessons you learned most from?
5. Can you think of a lesson in particular that you really enjoyed ?
6. What key areas should we spend more time on improving in the next course?
7. What should I, as your language teacher, work on improving?
8. Do you have anything extra you would like to add?

How often do you get feedback on your progress as a teacher? How do you make sure you're meeting your students' needs? Do you have a standard set of questions you always ask? What are they?

How well do you handle criticism?

Are you embarrassed by praise?

Do you ask your students to reflect on the good stuff they learned and highlight particular things that you need to now focus on doing?

And finally, would you like to give me feedback on the way I ask for feedback, how could this be improved?

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9 Responses to “EFL Teacher Progress Check: adult language learners”

  • LUZBEGO says:
    August 25, 2009

    Very interesting and illustrative (and interactive!), indeed. I think having the students to answer you directly instead of a written comment makes it more natural and fresh as well as enabling you to respond and give feedback directly. It is true that students may not feel at ease to be fully sincere but that shouldn't occur if the teacher/student relationship has been amicable and fluent along the course.

    I get written assessment from students at the end of the course but it's a standard form with multiple choice answers (& some room to add comments) and relates to both the teaching and the school facilities so I don't think they are that helpful. At least, it feels good to know that the students' general view is that of full satisfaction.

    I would suggest a mid-course teacher progress check so as to improve those areas that seem not to be working that well. I think what's important when doing this is how to improve matters afterwards. There's no point if things are to continue the same!

    Regarding facing criticism, it's never easy to be brave and accept there's still much to learn but how we handle it so as to become better teachers truly shows that we're in the right way to be our best. I must admit I find it hard to accept it at the beginning (my ego can't help feeling hurt) but once this self-centred mood is counteracted then I start finding ways to improve those weak areas. I also try to see students in their right place in the whole teacher/student scenario. Many times I find students' criticism void of self-reflection and too carefree. They feel that you as a teacher “must” know the way to make them learn disregarding their responsibility as learners.

  • amanda in taiwan says:
    August 25, 2009

    You have a lot of comments that gather positive feedback. I also like to ask for even more constructive criticism.

    Such as . . . you say you ask:
    4. What were some of the lessons you learned most from?
    5. Can you think of a lesson in particular that you really enjoyed ?

    But, I would also ask "What are some of the lessons you learned the least from?" and the opposite of #5 . . . that you least enjoyed?

  • Eric says:
    August 25, 2009

    Clear, detailed, and persuasive.

    Collecting student feedback, from a variety of sources, is also useful. For instance, there are advantages - especially in high-stakes situations where students receive grades or might have to take another course from the instructor - where anonymous feedback is more appropriate and often illuminating. Many American universities use this as a method of both course and instructor evaluation with very detailed feedback forms.

    As both Luzbego and Amanda noted, however, you don't want to tilt the tables. Ask balanced, nuanced questions for both positive and negative feedback. In a constantly changing world, we can and must continue to change our teaching too!

    Finally, it's important to not only receive constructive criticism, but actually put those recommendations into practice in our ESL/EFL classrooms. Sometimes we, like our students, have to "learn by doing."

  • Lisa R says:
    August 25, 2009

    Firsty, congratulations on getting a renewal in these difficult times. I know which company that is from the office furniture (!), and am up for a few hopeful renewals there myself over the next couple of months.

    But enough about that. Great video - thanks for creating/posting. I must admit that my restart interviews are never as comprehensive as this, but then I do get feedback during a course, especially when trying out a new idea, where I'll ask if that's the kind of thing they find helpful. I also let students know the general direction - based on their needs analysis, but encourage them to ask for modification if and when they feel they'd like to. Also good to ask about negative experiences - during a new course's needs analysis I always ask what they definitely do not want to do - it's amazing what comes up sometimes (such as one group's awful experience of having worked on one article for a whole month!).

    Also, good questions re. how we,as teachers, deal with criticism and praise. I think I deal with criticism quite well, detaching my persona from it,and seeing it rather as a way to improve the 'service'. It's an opportunity to hear what a student really wants, and it can then be acted upon. Dealing with praise I'm not so good at, and normally just brush it off. I guess living in Germany has helped with the former, and being British has led to the latter. Or at least that's what an intercultural trainer might say...

    August 26, 2009

    What wonderful and helpful suggestions - thanks so much, Luzbego and Lisa for the tips on mid-course progress checks.

    I tend to do this too with long running groups, but actually come to think of it I should really start looking at ways to incorporate them in short courses too.

    Luz, I have to confess that I took this video a while ago... I wasn't sure if I was brave enough to put it up on the blog but I so really wanted to make the point that getting feedback from students is important so if this girl here can film it, anyone can ask ... or something like that.

    I agree with you totally, it is really hard to accept criticism but also sometimes a relief - the oh, that's what I'm doing wrong, let's get on with correcting that feeling.

    And I enjoy finding out more of what they want too.

    Amanda, your suggestions are spot-on!

    I feel so embarrassed listening to myself and then realizing that in a way I've set 'myself' up to only be criticized but I need to ask more pointed questions about what the weak lessons were as well and gain more feedback here.

    Thank you so much for being so direct, you're a 100% right.

    Eric, yup! Jotting down Amanda and Luzbego's notes now - have a course eval coming next week, and promise to put your and their thoughts in to practice ;-).

    Lisa! Thanks so much for commenting on my blog ;-) (disclaimer she's one of my colleagues and friends -she never comments xx)
    I agree with you, especially about the accepting praise part, sometimes we don't even listen when our students say good things too.

    I know I've been complimented on something I do with students in the past (something they stressed was the best thing about the class) and then in the next course, I simply didn't do it anymore and um... they complained.


    We live. We learn.

    Thank you guys again so much for sharing your ideas, suggestions and best tips with me.

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    August 26, 2009

    Dear Karenne,

    I tend to make my questions rather too negatively suggestive at the end of a course, which is just another way of fishing for compliments, when it comes down to it.

    Reading your post I'm thinking that it's a good idea to do feedback at both ends of a summer break.

    So after reading your post, the questions I'm going to ask for orientation in my kickoff session are going to be:

    Think back to our lessons before the break. It's ok to look at your notes.
    What did you learn?
    What topics did we cover?
    What learning methods did we use?
    What did we do together?
    What did you do on your own?
    What was our course like?
    What do you want to learn now?
    What do you want us to do together?
    Do you have a project you want to pursue?
    What do you want me to do?
    How is our course going to be different from the last one?


    August 29, 2009

    Hi ya Anne,

    I very much like your Do you have a project you want to pursue? that would open up the lessons to incorporating project based activities and in effect, the idea of that would come from them!

    I might suggest that What do you want me to do? might be too open - "do more of" might be a better way of phrasing that as that the students can think of specific things they want to see more of in the class.

    Do you agree?


  • Anne Hodgson says:
    August 29, 2009

    good point!

  • Anonymous says:
    September 04, 2009

    Great post and I really liked your feedback questions. It made me want to go back to mine and see if they need revision. One of those areas where 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach doesn't necessarily work ;)


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