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Learner-friendly reports

February 12, 2007

Hello again,

Reports on learners at the ends of their courses are often produced somewhat mechanically and without providing any very useful feedback to learners. They tend to be littered with clichés that simply do not address the personal learning profiles of...

...individuals. And even if the learner has an examination result to add to the feedback, they too are usually in the form of a grade or a score that doesn’t give any concrete information.

When teaching small groups I have addressed this issue by working on reports with the learners themselves. Stage one of the process involves them devising a pie chart that shows the relative importance of the language areas we have covered. An example might be a learner cutting the pie into 30% for personal information, 40% for work-related language, 20% to transactional language and 10% for study skills.

They then consult a checklist for each language area and tick or cross items according to whether they feel confident or lack knowledge. The personal information checklist might be as follows:

    Describing my appearance
    Giving personal details for official reasons
    Making informal self-introductions
    Describing my likes and dislikes
    Describing my family
    Describing my home
    Describing my job
    Describing my workplace.

I then collect the checklists and use what I have seen of the learners myself in conjunction with their pie charts and lists to compile report. I prioritize the language areas as the students have done. I comment on their speaking, listening and writing skills as appropriate for each area and note where further study is needed.

The personal information section for the report might go something like this:

Speaking: X can respond accurately and clearly to questions related to his personal details and can introduce himself with ease in social contexts. He has a sufficient range of vocabulary to describe his family, home, job and workplace but would benefit from further practice on clear pronunciation, notably the distinction between long and short vowels (especially, as a farmer, he works with sheep, not ships).
For future learning he will wish to extend his range of grammatical structures so that he can handle complex conditionals to express his preferences in greater detail (e.g. if I could spend more time on the land than in the office, I would be happier).

Writing: X can complete standard forms demanding factual personal information. He might wish to extend his range of writing skills next term to cover postcards, short letters and emails of a personal nature.

Reading: No problem in dealing with standard forms. Can read brochures and product descriptions. Could think about extending reading to experiences to short magazine articles.

Listening: Can answer straightforward questions requesting personal information. Can participate politely in social conversations. Could work further on listening on the telephone as this is an area where he still lacks confidence. He might practice techniques for checking details heard on the phone.

I don’t claim to have cracked the reporting problem, but I have found that this kind of collaborative approach results in a more meaningful type of feedback for individuals than the standard fare : has made good progress.

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  1. fouad haidar-ahmad Says:

    Dear Dr. Hall,
    Your handling of the skills is just thoughtful and takes care of the individual differences, yet I would like to ask about whether you have got a scope and sequence that inculdes the objectives throughout the various grades.
    You are on!I bet them all,
    fouad haidar-ahmad

  1. Drew Ward Says:

    I'm doing something similar. I am currently running a 10-week intensive course. So, on Friday of each week I give the students a survey asking various questions about the course.

    This let them self assess their own progress. And, it give me an idea of their satisfaction with the course. It also provides me with the chance to self-assess my techniques and content. Then, I use this to adjust for the next week and either write or adjust my plans for the following week.

    So, hopefully by having input from the students throughout the course, I can ensure their satisfaction at the end of the course.

    I also realised there is one additional benefit to this. The students have a record of what THEY say they have learned which protects the teacher froma student saying he didn't learn anything. Also, by doing these surveys (for which they have to provide written answers) I have a record showing the improvement of my students' language skills throughout the course.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    An interesting point, Drew. It is more powerful when students identify their own progress than if a teacher tells them they have
    advanced their knowledge.

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