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The Power of Feedback in ESL Teaching

By Bonnie Billak
The Power of Feedback in ESL Teaching

The feedback that you offer your students has a major impact on their success or failure, especially in the case of ESL students. This feedback—whether it be subtle, overt, verbal, or non-verbal—can raise levels of motivation and inspire success or, conversely, it can inflict major damage that hinders learning and language growth. When first learning English, ESL students are at a very fragile stage; therefore, care needs to be taken to ensure that feedback is positive, thus serving a constructive purpose.
While it is understandable for a classroom teacher to have feelings of frustration and exasperation when faced with the task of teaching English language learners with low language proficiency levels, every effort should be made to avoid the projection of these feelings onto the students. Even if you consider the situation in which the student finds himself to be hopeless, never let the student know that. Always keep in mind that, in many cases, your perception is not reflective of the true reality of the situation.
In addition, never shout at the students or exhibit negative body language, and of course, do not make negative comments about the student within earshot of the student or others. Most definitely, do not have the student sit in a corner all day coloring or playing games on a computer. While you may think you are being kind, students are likely to interpret such measures as a sign that you think they are not intelligent enough to handle the classwork the other students are doing. What ESL students want most is to fit in and to do the same work as their classmates. They have a sense of pride that can be easily hurt by negative feedback.
To put things on a more positive footing, strive to make the ESL student feel welcome in your classroom and to be a functioning member of the class. This can be accomplished by assigning the student a job of some sort, or non-verbal tasks that can be done independently. You can express your approval through gestures—a big smile, for example, clapping, or a thumbs up—if the student knows no English.
The language learner should be included in all classroom discussions and activities, expected to do the same work as the other children, only with scaffolding to ensure success. For example, if everyone is writing a story based on their family, the language learner can draw the story and then write text with your assistance. If the other students share their stories by standing in front of the class, the ESL student should do the same with the teacher assisting, if necessary, even if it is the student’s first day at school. This helps to quickly create an “I can do it” attitude.
As the students’ skills increase, be sure to point out and comment on any signs of advancement, no matter how small they may seem. The students need this frequent positive feedback in order to cope with their levels of frustration as they learn English. Most of all, always remember that kindness and laughter go a long way in creating a positive classroom learning environment in which students can prosper and grow into successful English language learners.
Bonnie Billak is an ESL Specialist at the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. She also does consulting work in the field of ESL teaching, program design, and/or evaluation.

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06/27/2019 - DV
Thank you and very well put, Ms Billak; you have addressed common assumptions and behaviours of teachers of new to English children who often feel overwhelmed with the task of including an EAL child in the planning and activities in a mixed ability class of 30. Your description of what often happens is spot on and their isolation soon affects the child's self esteem, confidence and progress. One of the reasons for this is a surprising lack awareness and skills training for EAL inclusion in teachers' training colleges in the UK.



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