Friday, November 23, 2012

Two Easy Peer Feedback Methods

Peer feedback can be extremely valuable in the BE classroom, especially when it comes to communication skills.  There are two reasons for this.

First, my learners are typically all in the same company and/or department and have a better grasp of the conventions within the discourse community.  Second, the learners have years of experience and training in various areas which they can draw upon to give feedback.  For example, several of my learners include project managers who have taken part in many training sessions on relationship building and giving feedback.  It is great to spread that knowledge.

Of course there are many other great reasons for constructive peer feedback, but there are also dangers, too.  Without direction and some limits, peer feedback can be overly positive or only highlight shortcomings.

For example, here is some peer feedback I received on a proposal I wrote for a university class.

·         Your introduction is very wordy.  I would consider consolidating some of the paragraphs and cut back on so many words.  Once you write the Letter of Transmittal you will realize most of what you wrote in your introduction will also be in your Letter of Transmittal.  Your introduction should be concise and to the point. You use too much detail for the reader in the first two paragraphs, which led to repeating most in the body of your proposal.  
·         Your title page doesn’t include who you ultimately want to read your proposal.  In our textbook on page 289 the title page lists who it is prepared by and who it is prepared for.  The prepared for individual will also be the name you address your Letter of Transmittal to. 
·         I would also consider spelling out what R&D because readers may not understand the acronym. 
·         You are also missing table of contents, which is a requirement for the report.
·         When using visuals you should name them in the proposal i.e. Figure 1, Figure 2, etc. Also if you pulled your illustrations from somewhere else you need to cite those as well. 

Hardly motivating... did I do anything well?  By the way... I did fine on the final assignment.

A Simple 3-2-1

I like to use a simple 3-2-1 feedback format for peer feedback.  I simply write on the board prior to a presentation, meeting, email, etc.

3 things they did well.
2 things they can improve.
1 thing you want to take and use in your presentations, emails, etc.

Then after the simulation/role play, I give them time to fully write out their feedback for the person.  I do not read them and let the learner look at them without pressure after the lesson.  Typically, the learner will come back the next week and thank their classmates for the excellent responses.  Then when we are giving class presentations, all participants are more likely to give complete, honest, and constructive feedback because they will receive the same in return.

Email Workshops

A second method for extensive peer feedback is email workshops.  I will set up pair groups and give each pair the task to write an email.  Each situation will be similar.  Note:  I will change the emails based on the target function.

For example: (the learners are told to fill in details to fit their job/situation)

Group A
  • To introduce yourself to a new business contact.  You will be working together in the future.
Group B
  • To follow up on a conference.  You met the person for the first time and talked shortly, exchanged cards and agreed to stay in touch.
Group C
  • To get in touch with a former friend / colleague.  You were close before but lost touch after several years.  But now you may need some help from him / her.
Then, the pairs compare and contrast their emails based on subject line, greeting, opening, structure, opening for discussion/response, closing, formality, and length.

Then I will have someone run to the copy machine and make copies for everyone.  Note: I give them an email template on A4 paper with all the top fields and a writing area.

Then the members of the three different groups will read the other emails.  While they are reading, I will mark the emails for accuracy and vocabulary.

To conclude, the members of the groups will meet together and discuss dos and don'ts in there situations, good structure, appropriate phrases, etc.  We will bring all the information together on a powerpoint slide and that will go out to the participants.

The participants absolutely love it.

So, two ideas on how I use peer feedback in my classrooms.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Making an Impact by Understanding the Learner's Goal

I am about to share a lesson I taught this morning in a one-to-one lesson.  This lesson flies in the face of many of the 'tenants' of ESL and learning in general.  The intent is to show how teaching Business English in-company can be markedly different from other environments.

Learner profile

The one-to-one lesson takes place once a week for one hour.  It was not set up as an individual training, but the woman is level A1 and there were no other employees with such a low level.  She works in the accounting department for a multi-national and handles a range of international tax issues, mostly around withholding tax.  The learner is in her mid- to late- fifties and generally doubts her ability to learn English.

More importantly, however, is the fact that she doesn't really want to 'speak' English, she only wants to handle her international tasks until she retires.  I repeat this often, but it is definitely true in this case; she does not have a language problem, she has a communication problem.  We have done a communicative events analysis and found that emails to inform others about processes are the most routine situations.  She must also receive and understand emails asking questions about payment status and how to apply for withholding tax exemptions.


I had planned to start looking at the passive in the lesson to help her explain a process.  We had just finished looking at adjectives as a method toward the past participle because it fits nicely into L1 German.  However, I started the lesson by asking, "Is there anything specific you want to talk about this week."

She told me that she had to write an email to a supplier about why an invoice has not yet been paid.  Okay... let's do it.  She explained the situation in German and I did a little graphic representation on the flip chart in English to confirm my understanding.  She agreed that I had.


I wanted to give her a template for this type of email.  I boarded a template I use for writing emails of bad news.

1.  Unfortunately / I'm afraid / Sadly...
2.  Why
3.  Give options
4.  Offer help
5.  Apologize for the situation

I clarified that we did not want to take responsibility for the situation because it is not our fault.  She dutifully noted the template.

Then I filled it by writing her email (while eliciting things she should know from our training).  To check her understanding of the sentences, I asked her to translate them into German.

Dear _____,

Thank you for your email.  (Her sentence.  We have worked on emails before)

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the withholding tax exemption from the central tax office.  We forwarded all your information to the government on/in _________.  But it takes some time for processing.  I cannot say when it will be confirmed.

We can either wait for the confirmation or we can pay the invoice now.  But I must withhold the 15.8%.

I can try to call the tax authority but sadly, I cannot speed up the process.

I apologize for the situation, and I will do everything on my side to complete the transaction.

If you have any questions, please contact me. (Again, her sentence.)

Best regards,

I wrote the email for her on the flipchart (filling the template) and she copied it.  I then asked her to read it aloud for me to check her dictation and to drill a few words.

We then discussed a few elements from the email.

1.  Performatives - We honed in on "I apologize" as this was a new word for her.  Then we looked at other performatives like suggest, propose, invite, request.

2.  either... or... - We will see this construction as we continue looking at processes.  She wrote 5 sentences using either... or....

3.  Forward - This was also a new word for her, although I'm sure we've covered it before.  We made a quick mind map of email words:  forward, reply, attach, confirm, sign.  Okay, they're not all email words, but they fit together for her.


To close the lesson, we took a look at the email again and I elicited ways she could use the email as a model for other situations.  In the end, she decided that she would save it in Word and use it whenever she had to give bad news about the withholding tax process.  In fact, she writes this type of email about twice a month.

To conclude, I doubt she can speak anymore English that she could before she came in.  She is undoubtly confused about most of the grammar in her example.  But she does understand exactly what each sentence says.  It will be much easier for us to cover this later.  In fact, we can dissect our example even further in future lessons.

But most importantly, she has a communication tool.  Remember, she doesn't need the English... she only wants to communicate the idea.  I consider this a successful way to spend 1 hour.