• Tom Garside

Feedback is not just for the teacher - how to get students to listen to each other

Many teachers see post-task feedback (where students report their answers and ideas to the class after finishing an activity) as an opportunity to simply hear whether students have got the right answer to a task. However, as we saw in our recent article, post-task feedback is also a valuable opportunity for students to reflect on the strategies that they use when they work on language tasks.

Another benefit of post-task feedback is that it can provide a forum for students to think about each others’ ideas, and listen to different perspectives on the task that they have just completed. A classroom culture where students listen to each other is healthy for learning, and will provide a lot more opportunities for discussion and thought about the material being worked on. This type of ‘dialogic’ classroom tends to lead to more authentic, extended and natural interaction, rather than students reporting answers mechanically word by word to get the right answer.

So how can we encourage students to listen and respond to each others’ ideas more in the classroom? Here are a few techniques to build a more dialogic atmosphere in language lessons:

Assign ‘listener’ roles to pair or group members

Another way of getting students listening to each other is to group students into threes for pair speaking tasks, and to instruct one member of the group specifically to listen to the speakers, and note what they hear. Listener tasks can be comprehension-based (to record the information and topics being spoken about by the speakers), accuracy-focused (noting down any errors that they hear), or to count keywords which are used in the interaction.

The listener role can be passed around the group to increase interaction, with two or three turns where different pair speak and the third student listens. This can extend speaking tasks significantly, and help to develop peer listening skills too.

Get students reporting on their partners’ ideas

As we saw in my previous article, a simple question to open up a student response to a task can bring other students into a conversation about the accuracy of an answer. When one student gives their idea, ask another student ‘What do you think?’ This very general, open question will catch a student off-guard if they haven’t been listening to the original answer. No-one likes to feel like they’ve missed something, so this will be a motivator for them to listen more carefully in future.

Ask students to help each other in feedback

A third way of encouraging students to get involved with each others’ ideas is to build a more cooperative approach to feedback. When a student doesn’t know an answer, or has a partial idea, ask another student to step in and help them. Even a small error in a response can be corrected, or another idea can be suggested to build to the correct response from several students, rather than putting pressure on an individual to answer correctly first time around.

Not knowing something is the first step to learning, and students should be prepared to speak out if they are not sure about an answer, so a culture of collaboration and helping reduces the negative impact on students if they don’t have a firm answer to a question straight away.

However you manage interaction during feedback, it is important not to restrict communication to simply you and a single student. Rather than seeing the answers to questions as the goal of feedback, take them as a starting point - an opportunity for more discussion of the content of the task. This way, students will be more likely to listen to each other and think about the ideas they suggest more deeply.

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.