Today’s blog follows on eight hours of online lessons over the course of a day – probably one of the longest stretches of teaching remotely – so apologies for the lack of readability or stating the obvious. Anyhow, in this post, I thought that it would be best to focus on the aspects of feedback provision within an online environment, after previous posts on dealing with first lessons with private students and another with online activities to get students speaking.
When one is not within the constraints of a physical classroom, an English teacher may find the online distance further enhances the separation to provide feedback in a prompt and candid manner. Most students that book private lessons, explain that they have received little feedback from previous teachers, and the main reason for finding another tutor is due to this. Thus, it is crucial for all online private tutors to provide a level of feedback that is expected by students.
Tip 1: Keep A Physical Notebook
My first piece of advice for all online tutors is to keep a notebook and a pen close to you while teaching. One can purchase a cheap notebook from a local store or from Amazon – tax deductible if you are working self-employed. It is quick and easy to write down some notes while your student(s) are speaking in English: notes of good language, areas of improvement or words that could be improved with pronunciation.
I find using a physical notebook more immediate, so I can start to write down patterns or things that pop up in my mind while the student is talking – using prompts to help me guide with the feedback stage during my lessons. I usually write a word with ‘pron’ next to it, as a personal instruction to review the pronunciation of that particular lexical item. I also underline or write down such sentences or points of language that I would like to review at a future point. All notes are linear and provide a reference, so it is immediate to the student. It also illustrates to students that I am listening to what they say and how they say it, offering suggested improvements with their English, which they thoroughly appreciate.
Tip 2: Use Google Docs or Word
Another tool that I use to document language and offer feedback to the student is through the use of a word processing tool, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word. All notes that I have made from a physical notebook are then transcribed to an online platform (Google Docs) or an alternative tool (Microsoft Word), which can be shared after the online lesson. The benefit of using such tools is that they are accessible at a future date, should you wish to review them, and students can also save them locally, print them out or do whatever they wish to do with such resources. I also keep a copy as this helps me remind myself what I have covered in previous lessons and reduce the likelihood of repeating material in future classes.
Google Documents can be shared via links – something that I use on a daily basis – and for those learners based in Mainland China, having to tackle the Great Firewall of China, I export such documents and send to them after the lesson. Otherwise you could refer to Padlet for sharing documents or shareable online whiteboards. All this has value and develops professional standing and recognition.
Tip 3: Spend Time on Feedback
When I first started teaching, albeit in a physical environment, I had little to no clue on how to deal with errors arising within the classroom. Within both the online and physical environment, this can be quite problematic. Students expect their tutors to provide them feedback either after their speaking or at the end of the lesson. If a student has contributed to a lesson or discussion, refer to your notes and spend an adequate time providing feedback.
Another point to mention is that you are not just providing feedback on errors and a corrective course of acton, but you are also providing positive feedback: grammatical points that were recognised, pronunciation that was commendable or vocabulary that was regarded. Spend time and incorporate an element of your online private tutoring to feedback, as students that I have spoken to hold this part in high regard, and are actually paying for a service by tutors whom regard this with little value in itself. It may seem obvious, but actually listen to your private students, and you will feel a greater connection and an improved rapport than merely going over the motions of teaching and focusing on the delivery of content.
I do hope that this post – despite my rather fatigued nature – is comprehensible and gives you some insight into how I deal with student feedback within an online environment. What tips would you recommend other online teachers? Let me know in the comments.