Seeking Student Feedback 2: Electric Boogaloo

Sometime during March I made a survey to ask my students for feedback. Here are the results with a bit of reflection on the data.

The Results

52 students responded to my survey out of 70ish, so that’s an OK response, I guess. #analysis

1. How often did you complete your homework on Canvas?

I created homework assignments on Canvas for my students. I wanted to know often people felt they did the assignments. Most people said they completed the homework on Canvas at least some of the time. This is true. Every single learner in my classes did the homework at least sometimes. I think my learners have a pretty good feeling for how often they are doing the homework.

2. How helpful were the homework assignments on Canvas for your acquisition of Spanish?

The homework consisted of short readings and then ordering activities known as “discourse scrambles” to show comprehension of the reading. They are tricky activities and have a learning curve to complete (and create).

There were some bumps along the way. Sometimes I made a mistake. Sometimes I made the questions too vague. Whenever there was a disputed answer, I erred on the side of the learner. If they found an alternate way of ordering that still made sense, they got even more input trying to make sense of why they got it wrong.

In general, the in-person feedback from students were that they hated these. The survey says otherwise, though. My gut tells me that if you dislike these activities, you REALLY dislike these activities. All in all, I still like them because they force the learners to read and comprehend every word of the sentence.

3. How often did you complete the homework assignments on VHL Central? / 4. How helpful were the assignments on VHL?

My department was using this textbook and companion website this quarter. We are abandoning it! It was not very helpful for acquisition and was way too expensive. The survey showed this result, I think.

I will say that the students who completed all the VHL Homework and actually tried at it fared better in my class than those who didn’t complete it ever. Then again, they probably kept doing the homework because they wanted to learn and found it easy to complete.

This seems to be a chicken and egg kind of thing.

5. How helpful were the in-class writings?

We co-created approximately one story per week. The goal for each story mini-unit is for learners to be able to do a written retell of the story in their own words. According to the survey, learners mostly feel these written retells are beneficial for their acquisition of Spanish.

I know that when I learned Spanish, reading and re-reading a story to do a written summary was a huge driver of my acquisition. I didn’t know it at the time, but the writing I produced was proof that acquisition was taking place.

Asking students to do a written summary of the text forces them to re-read the text. It gives them another opportunity to process the language that, by this time in the process, should be very familiar.

6. How helpful were the in-class discourse scrambles for your acquisition?

Again, if learners didn’t like discourse scrambles, they really didn’t like them. Still, lots of people really felt them to be very helpful. Learners have to really look carefully at each word in order to form a logical paragraph or series of events. A solid, solid activity.

7. What was the most beneficial activity?

By far, learners considered the co-creation of stories to be the most beneficial activity for their acquisition of Spanish. I was surprised that so many students liked the routine items (date, days of the week, weather, etc.).

A number of activities have to do with reading. Combined, it’s clear that most learners found those activities beneficial too.

Some Takeaways

  • Comprehensible input leads to acquisition, and learners found the CI activities the most beneficial for their acquisition, even if indirectly.
  • Students don’t like homework. In a college setting, they have to do some acquisition activities at home. There’s no way to get it all done in class. In high school setting, homework is probably not necessary.
  • Learners found readings and discourse scrambles to be more beneficial for their acquisition than the expensive online textbook component.
  • This is not a scientific study, but the data is helpful for me to get a pulse on student thinking. I want my course to get better every quarter, and this is a good way to get some feedback. I’ll do this again.

Pre-written Readings and Tasks

Providing students with readings and tasks is another way to deliver input while taking a bit of a break from the co-creation of stories.

It’s still February and my 8am class has missed five days of class due to the snow, it snowed again yesterday, I’m sick, and my 4-year-old forgot how to hold his liquids through the night. Forgive me if I’m a little cranky. Honestly, I need a break. I’m all out of energy to be co-creating stories right now.

Enter pre-written readings and tasks.

Last quarter I posted about the Hero’s Journey, which is an idea for taking learners on an adventure in L2. After the self-proclaimed Diva of Second Language Acquisition was generous enough to have a phone conversation with me before the start of the term, I redesigned my whole course. I even changed how I use the Hero’s Journey in my classes.

We still define a main character, a supporting character, and an antagonist to start the term. But unlike quarters past, now I write the whole story in level-appropriate chunks and follow them up with input-oriented tasks (e.g. comprehension questions, multiple choice, true false, check boxes for which applies to you, etc.). Students read the short passage (under 300 words) and then do the follow up activities. Once they finish a reading and its corresponding tasks, we sum up the activity as a class and move on to the next reading and the set of tasks. Over the course of the term, students will make it through an entire novella. Below is an example from a novella that is currently in draft. Hopefully you can read this image of text.

Notice that I write these in the first person. It’s necessary to give students reps in the language in different contexts, and first person gets overlooked in the input sometimes.

Pre-written readings and tasks can take anywhere from 10-60 minutes, and I generally use them to fill up an entire class period. It enables learners to read and process L2, while giving us all a break from the storytelling process. Co-creating stories is exhausting, and you and your learners will burn out if you’re not careful.

I’ve discovered that these regularly scheduled breaks from co-creating of stories are a wonderful for my learners’ and my own sanity, especially at this time of the quarter when we’re all sick, tired, cranky, etc. I think that the tasks are also useful because they disguise input in a way that looks more like output.