ASL students aren’t just learning information, they are developing language skills, and for any skill development, you need feedback.
With more and more college students enrolling in ASL classes, understanding strategies for giving excellent feedback are particularly useful for instructors.
This month, we’ve got 7 tips for improving feedback in your ASL classroom:
1. Keep it specific
In her Edutopia piece, “5 Research-Based Tips for Providing Students with Meaningful Feedback,” Marianne Stenger suggests that specificity, timing, presentation, and student involvement are all important elements of giving feedback that works.
Telling a student, “You did great” doesn’t offer them the specific information they need to improve. Dig a little deeper and ask yourself specifically how they did great.
Specificity also helps when giving negative feedback. Letting a student know that they made a mistake without more detail is just as ineffective as “You did great.” Telling a student they forgot the correct mouth morpheme for their sign, however, gives them something specific to work on.
2. Immediate vs. delayed feedback
Using a combination of immediate and delayed feedback can engage more of a student’s brain. Stegner suggests that immediate feedback helps students better remember the comments you gave them.
In a recent edSurge article, Craig Roberts argues that delayed feedback has been shown to “involve a different type of memory.” (Roberts explained it like this: “A study at Columbia University found that subjects receiving immediate feedback showed activation in a brain area that supports implicit learning (memorizing 7 x 7 = 49) called the striatum, while delayed feedback increased activation of the medial temporal lobe, which supports explicit learning (solving for X, where 7x = 31”).
The lesson is that you have an opportunity to engage multiple areas of the brains of your students by mixing up the timing of your feedback.
3. Keep it productive
Feedback isn’t always easy to receive, and in some cases, feedback hurts more than helps. Stegner writes, “Sometimes even the most well-meaning feedback can come across the wrong way and reduce a learner’s motivation.”
To help your students open up to your feedback, Stegner recommends letting them know why you’re giving the feedback and how it can help them.
4. Self-critique & peer feedback
Including your students in the process of “collecting and analyzing performance-based data cannot be understated,” Stegner states.
Giving your students a place in the feedback loop will help them gain a better appreciation for the feedback you give them because they’ll know where it’s coming from and why they need it.
Your feedback is for the student, after all, right?
5. Keep it simple
Complex or confusing feedback can be counterproductive. Keeping comments simple increases the probability that they will be understood and incorporated. The influence of feedback is limited to the extent that it is understood. Complex or confusing comments are about as helpful as abstract comments—that is, not helpful at all.
If you know you have a tendency to deliver complicated feedback, focus on one thing at a time with each of your students. Ask yourself, “If I could give this student only one piece of advice, what would it be? “
6. Keep it relevant
Like keeping it simple and specific, keeping feedback relevant does wonders in helping your student understand and appreciate your feedback. If you’re teaching an entry-level ASL class, giving feedback on higher-level material doesn’t help your students.
Not only the content of your comments should be relevant, but the type of feedback (positive or negative) should be relevant. In their Journal of Consumer Research article, Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback,: Stacey R. Finkelstein and Ayelet Fishbach write that novice language learners are more open to positive feedback while more advanced language learners “actively seek negative feedback to motivate themselves to invest effort in a goal.”
Keeping the content relevant to the class and the feedback type relevant to the student’s skill level will help your feedback say what you want it to say.
7. Keep it in ASL
Last of all, as you incorporate the other 6 feedback tips, always remember to deliver your feedback in ASL whenever possible. Language learning by immersion is the quickest way to develop fluency in that language.
In 2010, the America Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages approved a short position paper regarding the use of the target language in the classroom, which asserts that students develop language better when they are provided with “significant levels of meaningful communication and interactive feedback in the target language.”
Feedback is only as good as the effort we give it. Take a few moments before grading that next video assignment and ask yourself, “What piece of feedback does this student need to hear now?”
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