Collecting and Using Learner Feedback, a workshop

Those of you who know me know that it’s unusual for me to let myself be talked into speaking in public. I get stage fright, and such a terrible buzzing in my brain that I can’t even hear what I’m saying and can’t remember it after. But I do it, and for two reasons: because of my friends’ unshakeable confidence in me and because of my own belief in what I have to share. 

Last week I gave a workshop about feedback for a lovely group of inservice public school teachers at the request of my friend and my very first trainer, #KELTchatter Matthew Walker (@esltasks – he blogs here). I’d like to share some of the material here.

2013-12-09 18.24.29

The Feedback Box my classes use

Collecting Feedback

We began by exploring some beliefs about feedback through an agree/disagree activity. I really enjoy this activity because it never fails to show how different we all are and open our minds to other ways of thinking. I was most surprised by the variety of responses to “Feedback should be given in Korean.”

In the next part, we talked about why teachers might want (and not want) to collect feedback. I have to admit, I’m coming from a perspective of “collecting feedback is always better than not,” so I was really pleased to hear opinions on both sides of the question from the teachers in the room. I was really interested in the discussion on feedback for evaluation or personal use. I also learned something about how and when feedback is normally collected in Korean schools.

Next we talked about how to collect feedback: deciding what we want to know and making questions that will help us draw that information from our students.

How I collect feedback:

Feedback is a process of trial and error, in my experience. The first time I asked my class for feedback, I left it totally open. I didn’t give any guiding questions. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. I was sort of hoping their feedback would answer that for me. Two things happened: students wrote about other classes or things that were beyond my control, and students wrote useful things that I would never have thought to ask.

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Examples of student feedback (take II)

After that, I structured feedback more, but still experimented. I tried having them give collective feedback on the board. That was a disaster because their comments were shallow, non-specific, and exclusively positive.

I tried colored strips of paper with a lot more success, with the disadvantage that it limited what students were allowed to comment on.

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I like – , I dislike – , Please change – feedback examples (take III)

I tried asking five specific questions about the class – this worked well, but again had the disadvantage of being limiting and also took way too much time.

I tried my variation on exit slips: exit tests where students have to show what they’ve learned before they can leave the classroom. This works well with younger and lower level classes where they have to answer a question or produce a correct sentence in order to leave.

Yesterday I had quite a bit of success with three questions: 1) What did you learn? 2) What parts of the class did you like/ dislike? and 3) I want to tell Anne _____.

2013-12-18 13.27.14

I learned _ , I like/dislike _ , I want to tell Anne _ (Feedback, take IV)

I think one of the reasons feedback collection has been more and more successful each time is because the students are getting practice giving feedback and building trust that 1) it will not be ignored and 2) it will not cause conflict.

Next time I am going to try some of the feedback forms suggested by the teachers in the workshop.

Participants’ feedback ideas:

The teachers displayed three different modes of collecting feedback. One group came up with a feedback tree. I love that idea and would like to adapt it to make a new attempt at group feedback.


Open mind, open feedback!

The other groups designed Likert scales to collect the information they wanted (information related to the four skills). Another variation that I loved was a space for the student’s feeling. I think that feeling can be very relevant to the perception of the class and the feedback they give.

I really regret that I didn’t take pictures of the teachers’ work, but Matthew came to the rescue again:


Gettin’ specific, with little memory icons, but space for free comments as well.



Great way to collect feedback from large classes without getting bogged down.


Part 2: finding out what the students want.

After the groups presented their feedback ideas, we ran out of time. I skirted over reflection and response, even though to me they are as important (or more important) than collecting the feedback.

I know the word count on this post is already getting up there, but this time I don’t want to miss out on reflection and response.

Reflecting on feedback:

Once I’ve collected feedback, I have to decide what to do with it. I look first for common threads. I also look for surprising comments. While it’s possible to reflect on both the positive and the critical aspects of the feedback to great benefit, I’m pretty typical in focusing primarily on what students would like to change.

With common threads (for instance, the nearly unanimous dislike of summary writing in a class of 6th graders), I sit down with a pen and my notebook and write out the description of the class, the students, how I have taught the material, the students’ reactions at the time (as I perceived them), the resultant summaries, and anything else I can think of.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.


Then I start thinking of all the possible reasons why they might hate writing summaries. Perhaps it takes a lot of time? Perhaps they still aren’t confident they are doing it correctly? Perhaps it is still difficult for them to understand the material well enough to summarize it? Perhaps they don’t have enough vocabulary to say the same things in different ways? And on and on. These are questions I can clarify when I speak with the students about their feedback.

Finally I need to decide whether I am going to make a change. In this case, I decided not to. Summary writing is an important skill that will improve with practice. So I decided to explain to the students why I want them to continue practicing and promise them more support in the future to try and make it easier.

Responding to feedback:

As I mentioned before, I think it is very important for students to know that their feedback will not be ignored. I think this is true for learners of all ages. And so I take the time to respond. After collecting feedback, I go through it. I create a chart for it and sometimes color-code it based on the questions answered. 

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 오후 1.34.50

Then I give the chart to the students. I go over it with them in class. I ask them to identify common threads. I ask them whether they agree or disagree or don’t care about some of the less common feedback. I explain what I can change. We negotiate. Where there are things that cannot be changed or that I am unwilling to change, I explain the reasons behind those decisions. And then I ask what they think about that.

This all takes time, but it’s worth it and usually results in better or more specific feedback the next time.

My thoughts on the workshop:

1) I didn’t have time to get specific feedback from the participants. I wanted to know whether the workshop would change the way they collected feedback in their classes, whether the ideas they got from me and each other would help them collect the kind of feedback that would be useful and manageable, and how they think I can improve this workshop for future groups.

2) I wish I had learned the teachers’ names. I wanted them to know I am really interested in them and their ideas.

3) I wish I had built in more time to share as a group. I learned a lot from these teachers, but I feel I talked too much.

I want to thank the teachers who were willing to spend their morning with me. I learned a lot from them.

You guys are awesome.

You guys are awesome.

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  • Matthew Walker  On December 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I will pass it along to the teachers. They very much appreciated the workshop, as did I. Looking forward to more great stuff. Have a good end of the week and Merry Christmas!

    • livinglearning  On December 19, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Thank you and thanks again for the opportunity. Merry Christmas back at you.


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