- Key Words: Classroom management
- Learner English Level: Advanced Beginner and above
- Learner Maturity Level: Junior high school and above
- Preparation Time: one hour to prepare form; fifteen to thirty minutes after each class for comments
- Activity Time: twenty minutes for first explanation; five minutes at the end of each class
When you're teaching oral English, you want to have a pretty good sense of your students' ability, performance, and interests in order to design lessons that will tap into their strengths and address their weaknesses in a compelling way. The large class sizes, of thirty, forty, or more, that many English teachers in Japan are faced with can frustrate these efforts. One method that I have used successfully to develop and maintain a personal rapport with individuals in larger classes is "Self-Assessment Forms." Used regularly, these forms can give a teacher some insight into each student's progress in the speaking class.
What are Self-Assessment Forms?
Self-Assessment Forms are short progress logs that each student writes at the end of each class. They are then handed in, and the teacher writes comments or responses before returning them at the beginning of the next class. (See Appendix A for a sample form.)
I use B5 size paper for the form, creating a grid horizontally across the page. I usually have four or five column headings, three of which are always "Date," "Student's Comments," and "Instructor's Comments." I deliberately keep the writing space for comments somewhat small, so that the time needed for responses does not exceed more than a minute or so per form. I vary the other headings from semester to semester and from class to class, depending on my aims. Some headings I have used are:
1. "Speaking Goals" and "Amount Spoken" -- Students set a goal for the number of exchanges or turns in English at the beginning of the class, and write the actual number achieved at the end of the class. This second column could also be simply +, -, or = to indicate whether the goal was achieved or not. If numbers are used, it's important that students realize that accuracy is less crucial than awareness; in other words, don't fret about whether it was 8 or 9 or 10 exchanges.
2. "Grade" -- At the end of the class students assign themselves A, B, C, or D for their speaking performance. If this column heading is used, it is helpful to give guidelines for each grade on the back of the form. For example, a grade of A might demand that the student have three or more exchanges in English with the whole class, ask the teacher two or more questions, and speak 95% English or better with a partner or small group.
3. "What Did You Learn?" -- This column heading helps to focus students' attention on their increasing knowledge base as the class progresses. It can be used to record new vocabulary, sentence patterns, or ideas.
4. "Speaking Focus" -- Students identify an area of their oral performance that they want to be aware of or try to improve in that class. It could be something as specific as "pronounce B and V sounds very carefully" or something more general like "try to speak longer." The "Student's Comments" column could then be used to remark on how well that goal was achieved.
Aims and Methods
When using Self-Assessment Forms with a class, I hope to achieve several goals:
1. Get to know each student as an individual rather than a name on a roll-call roster. In fact, I often use the Self-Assessment Forms in place of taking attendance; by calling the students' names from the forms and handing each form directly to its owner, I can connect names with faces much more quickly than by doing a regular roll call. In addition, I can quickly note which students are late or absent by which forms I have left over after returning them
2. Receive feedback from each student about how the class is going for them. The "Student's Comments" column is particularly useful for this, as students can remark on any aspect of the class they wish, or ask a question about something they didn't understand. While I like students to make comments about language learning, I don't complain if the students prefer to engage in a more personal dialogue in this space. However, I gently discourage wide-sweeping questions in the "Please tell me about Canada" genre.
3. Give feedback to students about their progress. I use the "Instructor's Comments" section to respond to the comments or questions written by students and/or to point out strengths or weaknesses that I notice in their classroom performance.
4. Increase students' self-awareness of their role in language learning. Weaning students from the notion that their learning comes solely from the teacher, and guiding them towards a critical self-assessment of their skills will help them develop into more successful and independent language learners.
5. Provide opportunities for students' goal-setting. Related to the above point, incorporating goal setting in the Self-Assessment Forms can not only give students more responsibility for their own learning, but it can also show the teacher what the students deem important, which can help with lesson planning.
6. Add a small amount of reading and writing activity to predominantly oral English classes. Self-Assessment Forms can offer a greater voice to quiet students in speaking classes and can reinforce or provide practice of vocabulary or structures used orally in class.
7. Alert the teacher to problem areas. In large classes, it is quite possible that, despite the teacher's best intentions, most of each student's oral production is missed as the teacher circulates among pairs or groups during the speaking practice. Self-Assessment Forms help the teacher identify and address individual student's errors in grammar, sentence structure, or vocabulary usage. In addition, aspects of the class that are not "working" for a particular student or group of students (for example, group dynamics, teacher's rate of speech, seating arrangement, etc.) quite often come to light in the Self-Assessment Forms.
8. Informs final evaluation and grading. The Self-Assessment Forms can be used as part of the students' grades for the class. I have done this in several ways. The easiest is to assign a specific percentage of the grade to the Self-Assessment Forms -- I allot ten percent -- and then tally the number of complete entries; absences can be counted against the grade or ignored, and entries that do not meet the course standards for communication can lower the grade. Another method is to turn this percent of the grade over to the student, with the final Self-Assessment Form entry being reasons why the student gave himself/herself that grade; the teacher can choose to raise or lower the grade depending on how well the reasons meet the pre-determined standards. This method works best if, from the beginning of the class, one of the column headings has been "Grade" (see point #2 in the section "What is the Self-Assessment Forms?"). A third way is to assess whether the Self-Assessment Forms demonstrate progress towards specific course goals, such as speaking more often, use of certain structures or vocabulary, self-directed learning, and so on. This method is more subjective than the other two, and somewhat more difficult to measure.
One of the best aspects of the Self-Assessment Forms is its flexibility. You can use whatever you like as column headings, altering the focus to suit your goals for each class. Also, the title itself can be changed; for example, I have often called this activity "Participation Forms" in order to have students try to increase the quantity and quality of their in-class speaking turns.
Name:______________________ Student Number:___________
|Date||Today's Speaking goal||
|Student's Comments||Intructor's Comments|
Another way that the form can be varied is to not use a paper form at all. Interaction between student and teacher can be carried out by email or an exchanged computer disk, for example. The teacher's challenge with email, of course, is to cap the amount of response and interaction time given each student; with large classes this can become too draining on a teacher's time and, sometimes, on emotional resources. A related idea is to use a cassette tape as the medium of exchange. Students do their self-assessment orally after the class, handing the tape in within twenty-four hours; the teacher then listens and responds by speaking directly onto the tape. This method is more difficult for the teacher to review quickly when assigning grades for the activity, so is best used for classes that are not evaluated in that way.
I began by emphasizing how useful this activity is for managing large oral English classes, but its effectiveness is equally apparent in smaller classes (where teachers will have the luxury of more time for detailed or frequent responses), or in reading, writing, listening, or content-bases classes. Almost any type or size of class can benefit from this efficient and easy way to develop regular contact between each student and the teacher.