The role of constructive feedback in the EFL classroom

How can our EFL learners benefit from our comments on their work?

Here are 9 tips on using meaningful feedback to improve student performance and promote language learning

  1. The importance of positive feedback to increase learner motivation

Everybody loves being praised for the work they’ve done. Our students need encouragement, they need to be told when they are doing something well. When we offer feedback it is best for them to first know what it was that we felt they had done well. Acknowledging our students’ efforts and good work gives them an enormous psychological boost and increases their intrinsic motivation. They are more willing to participate in the lesson, to be actively involved in the learning process and to improve their language skills even further.  

2. Being clear and specific

    Apart from general comments such as “I loved your work/essay” or “You were brilliant”, it is extremely beneficial to our learners if we give them a more detailed analysis and pinpoint what it was they did which led us to use such labels. Rather than merely evaluating something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we should be more descriptive and explain what it was that we heard or noticed that had this effect on us.

3. Making feedback personalized and consistent

Oral or written feedback should not necessarily mean correcting our learners’ errors. It is important to view it as a commentary on our student’s work. These comments play an important role on the learning process. It is important to remember to focus on all aspects of our learners’ output. Sometimes we pay too much attention on fluency/accuracy or the proper use of lexis and grammar that we forget to comment on how our students approached a specific topic, on their viewpoints and on the overall content of their work. Monitoring our learners individually and providing a consistent and personalized feedback to each and every one of them (if possible) is extremely valuable and crucial for their language development.

4. Giving hints – promoting active involvement

In order for our feedback to be constructive and to boost the learning process, we must first of all make sure that our learners notice our comments, understand them and work in order to fix their errors and properly adjust their spoken and written output in the TL. To do this, we could first of all give them hints instead of directly providing them with corrections. For example, when evaluating a writing task, we could just write down ‘check the verb tense’ instead of correcting the verb form for them. Our learners need to be actively involved in this process and to learn to notice and discover for themselves what they need to change and adapt in their TL output.

5. Offering tips and alternatives

Our comments on our learners’ work should be constructive in a way that will foster language learning. We must always try to turn all the negative commentary into positive suggestions. It will be extremely beneficial for our learners if we suggest to them what they could have done differently by offering helpful tips and advice that will make them notice their strengths and weaknesses in the TL.

6. Respecting our students’ personalities and learning styles

It is important to always consider the feedback preferences of our EFL learners with respect to their personalities and learning styles. Some students may feel embarrassed if we correct them in front of the whole class. Criticism can harm the learning process and demotivate our learners. We therefore need to be careful as to how we approach the students and how we comment on their performance.

7. Constructive feedback vs grades

  In certain EFL classrooms the learners will almost inevitably ask to receive a grade for each and every assignment of theirs. The question is whether we should stick to this or change the rules a bit. It is important to make them realize that sometimes it is not the grade that counts but the overall feedback they receive on their work.

The importance of rewriting:

    With regard to our students’ written work we should consider grading the second draft and turn this into a habit for our learners. By editing their written work, they learn to notice our comments, they actively try to make the right adjustments and they get a better grade for doing so.

8. Peer feedback

    Encouraging peer to peer feedback can prove to be very beneficial for our EFL learners. It is an extremely useful consciousness raising task that will boost active involvement and help them learn from each other.

9. Feedback as part of a valuable learning experience

Sometimes our learners get demotivated by low grades and by looking at an overwhelming amount of comments on their work. It is our role to make them realize that we all learn by making mistakes. They need to accept errors and to embrace them as an inevitable part of the learning process. The important part is for our learners to consciously begin to notice their learning gaps and to try to improve and fix them. It is the noticing part that will help their interlanguage to develop and will therefore boost the learning process.

One last thought:

Giving and receiving feedback

    Teachers should not just be the ones that give feedback. It is important to also receive feedback from their students on their teaching methods, on the topics covered, on the lesson flow. Our learners need to feel free to discuss with us what they like and don’t like about the lesson. We need to make them actively involved in the learning process and show them that their opinion matters not only for the sake of a successful learning outcome, but for our own professional development as teachers. We should be doing the same thing we ask of them: self-assessment on our teaching methods, on our role in the classroom and on our overall attitude towards our learners and their needs.

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