Introduction

Successful course outcomes depend on a number of elements. Good preparation and effective teaching will ensure that students have a high level of satisfaction with their course and with the teacher.

Managing expectations

Student satisfaction can be enhanced if the teacher ensures that learners knows what is expected of them and, also, what they are entitled to expect from the course and from the teacher. There are a number of ways of doing this, including:

  • thorough preparation and organisation
  • showing commitment to and enthusiasm for the language, country and culture
  • showing commitment to the students, their learning
  • creating and maintaining student interest
  • meeting the course objectives
  • ensuring the relevance of class and homework activities, both for specific outcomes and for the overall aims of the course
  • awareness of how the course will be assessed and ensuring that students are also aware of this
  • knowing what course feedback the students will be asked to provide.

It is always a good idea, at the beginning of the course, to explain the course aim and objectives. Whilst these will be listed in official documents, students may not read them, or not realise their significance. Explaining what the course is expected to achieve, with examples (and asking for questions) is a good way of getting students involved right from the start.

If you plan class activities which do not, at first glance, fit with the aims of the course, always explain to students why you are doing these activities and what benefit this will bring. For example, if you are teaching a reading course, and you ask the students to do some writing, it is worth explaining that:

  • students will not be assessed on writing skills, but
  • these are needed for functional purposes, doing exercises, making notes etc.
  • learning to write also helps many students to learn vocabulary and grammar etc.

Teacher feedback

As teachers conducting highly interactive language classes, we are giving our students feedback at every moment of the lesson and in their homework, by praising, correcting, suggesting improvements, making comments etc. If this kind of informal or ‘formative’ feedback is done tactfully and constructively, it is an important part of the teaching process and is valued by students.

Correcting mistakes

There are two views of how, and to what extent, to correct students’ work, whether oral or written. One view is that one should not over-correct, so as not to discourage the students, while the other is that meticulous correction is necessary to help the students learn from their mistakes. The argument extends, even, to what to use for corrections: red pen or not red pen?! Different teachers use different strategies to minimize any embarrassment students might feel when they are corrected. Some even evolve systems by which mistakes students make in class are corrected by their peers…

Perhaps it is not how to correct which should be the starting point of the discussion, but, rather, what the correction is intended to achieve. If, for example, we are targeting oral fluency and communication, it may be best not to stop and correct every mistake students make while they are speaking. Instead, one could make a note of all the mistakes students have made in the course of a task, and to go through these at the end, without identifying which students made which mistakes. If a student has a particular problem, this can always be addressed one-to-one at the end of the class.

Homework and marking

When setting homework, it is useful to explain, briefly, what the aim of the task is, what students are expected to achieve and how this fits in with the course objectives.

Setting, marking and correction of assignments is hugely important in:

  • making students review and consolidate material done in class
  • giving the students an idea of how they are progressing
  • allowing the teacher to monitor progress and diagnose problems as they occur.

And it is worth remembering that, if we ask our students to spend an hour or more of their time carefully producing homework, it is only fair that we, as teachers, should show respect for this, and mark their homework as carefully as possible. Once the work is returned, students should be given a chance to review what they have done and to learn from the teacher’s marking and comments. Whilst this may take up some class time, it is appreciated by students, and is an important part of the feedback they expect to receive.

Student feedback

Most university departments ask students to complete a feedback questionnaire at the end of the course. This assists institution managers and heads of department to improve teaching for subsequent years, and to identify any specific issues which need resolving.

When you start teaching in a department or institution, it is a good idea to find a copy of the feedback questionnaire, to see what questions the students will be asked to answer, and on what criteria they will be judging you, as the teacher, and the course you are about to teach. Given below is a selection of typical questions:

  • How difficult was the course material?
  • Was the range of material covered satisfactory?
  • Were the exercises useful?
  • Was the teacher good at explaining things?
  • Were the classes interesting?
  • How stimulating were the classes?
  • Was the presentation of the material clear?
  • Was the marking of homework satisfactory?
  • How helpful and/or informative was feedback on written work?
  • Did the classes offer sufficient opportunity for student participation?
  • How receptive was the tutor to questions and discussion?
  • Have the classes met the aims and objectives of the course?
  • Which aspects of the classes could be improved?

Students do appreciate efforts made by their teachers to make their lessons interesting (and relevant!) – and, on the whole, the feedback that they give at the end of the course is fair and constructive. Knowing, in advance, what the questions are likely to be will help you, as a teacher, to focus your teaching so as to elicit the best and most constructive feedback from your students.

Conclusion

When students know what to expect from a course, and are aware of what is expected of them, this avoids unnecessary misunderstandings during the course, and expressions of criticism or dissatisfaction at the end. Students appreciate working in an orderly and calm atmosphere, and this also makes the course much more pleasant for the teacher.

What’s next?

Assessment