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Effective Teaching: A Reflection on Student Evaluations

As I was reading literature for my dissertation, I came across a table that I found useful to reflect upon my teaching, particularly on student evaluations.  Although not a part of my dissertation, one of my interests is investigating differences of student evaluations from context to context.  For example, I have found the level of formality and education/entertainment ratio differs from class to class and culture to culture.  I wanted to use this table from Barnes & Lock's (2010) article, "The Attributes of Effective Lecturers of EFL as Perceived by Students in a Korean University," published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, as an reflective exercise for my own professional development, and if it is seems useful, I may be interested in applying this table (or similar ones like it) as a teacher educator.

Barnes & Lock (2010) divide effective teaching into five major categories: rapport, delivery, fairness, knowledge & credibility, and organization & preparation.  I will elaborate on each category, providing their sources from their literature review, and order their listing from my strongest points to my weakest, according to my student evaluations and my teaching beliefs.

Rapport - examples of this are sociability, empathy, personality, and receptiveness (Barnes & Lock, 2010).  Effective teachers...
  1. Are patient (Desai, et al., 2001; Kutnick & Jules, 1993; Payne, 1978; Rammal, 2006) - I have had a substantial amount of positive feedback on this from classroom observations.  Some students have also remarked positively about my patience, but some students have found it strange.  One of my supervisors in Korea applauded my use of "wait time," which was a new concept for me at the time.  However, another supervisor in Korea remarked that "wait time" can interfere with the energetic flow of a class.  My patience as a teacher seemed to work best in Japan as it aligned with the virtue of "silence is golden," however that virtue sometimes is anathema to a classroom that involves a high amount and pace of speaking.
  2. Listen to students (Desai, et al., 2001; Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Park & Lee, 2006; Rammal, 2006) - I highly value my students input, especially in that it gives them the opportunity to use English as classroom language.  Although most student evaluations do not highlight listening, my classroom observations have pointed out that I listen well.  On day one, I try to make it clear that students I will listen and will make adjustments if they are possible.
  3. Care (Desai, et al., 2001; Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - For me, this goes hand in hand with "listen to students" because I "care."  Perhaps this is the best way I demonstrate that I care.  
  4. Have a sense of humor (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I love making my class laugh, but humor is very subjective.  Coming out of college, my humor was very sarcastic and it took me a few months into my first job to realize that sarcasm didn't go over well in the Japanese classroom.  It took about a year to develop a whole new sense of humor, and I was able to make the whole class laugh.  Almost 10 years later, I'm teaching in Russia where my Japanese sense of humor doesn't go over well, and they prefer a more sarcastic version.  Fortunately, I could adjust to this more quickly.  But after Russia, I never felt more confused about my own sense of humor when teaching a class of students from several backgrounds.  Humor is very important to me, and I would not be able to survive as a teacher without it.
  5. Have a positive attitude towards students (Desai, et al., 2001; Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Park & Lee, 2006; Rammal, 2006) - This seems a like a given at the individual level, but my research interest has given me another perspective of seeing students beyond their culture, which can be difficult at times.  I used to go into a class and make assumptions based on their backgrounds, but it has helped me to develop a more positive attitude with going into a class with a viewpoint that my students are unique and perhaps exceptions to what Holliday (2005) refers to culturalism.  For example, I'm not a teacher who tries to solve the "problem" of Chinese English learners; I am there to help them develop their English language abilities.  It is difficult to do this when surrounded by discourses that state otherwise.
  6. Make themselves accessible for consultation (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I am bit strict on myself with maintaining office hours.  I hated waiting on my teachers, so I don't my students to wait on me.  Oddly, ten years into my career, I have often found that students have visited my office less often than my counterparts.  I asked one student about this at the end of the semester, and he said that it was because my classroom instructions were always clear.  I don't believe he was pandering.
  7. Share personal and professional life experiences (Chen, 2005; Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - Although I like doing this, I often limit this for a few reasons.  #1) This can cause me to go off topic for too long, and although the students usually don't mind, I want to accomplish the goals and objectives of the day.  #2)  Some students my willingness to share personal and professional life experiences to postpone an activity, an assignment, or a test.  #3) As a student, I don't like it when teachers talk too much about themselves.
  8. Are congenial (Chen, 2005; Faranda & Clark, 2004) - I have had difficulty with this only because my first jobs limited the level of congeniality.  I was taught to keep a certain distance from the students in my first job, and in my second job I was told to assert my authority as a teacher educator because my age was so close to my students.  Because of this, I feel that I am 5 years behind  in my congeniality compared to my other developments as an effective teacher.
  9. Develop interpersonal relationships (Chen, 2005; Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Xiao, 2006) - This looks really bad in that it is last, but I put it here because it seems to be the most difficult to grasp.  The issues of #5 and #8 are mixed in this category.  Each English language program I have been in has given me different roles.  In some I could develop good relationships, and in others the students felt more like customers, a feeling I dislike.  I would say that #8 and #9 are issues that I am still grappling with, especially if the position gives me a new role in relation to my students.
Delivery - examples of this are personal style, communication, methodology, and content (Barnes & Lock, 2010).  Effective teachers:
  1. Give clear explanations (Griemel-Fuhrmann, 2003; Kember & Wong, 2000; Kutnick & Jules, 1993) - I have received the most positive feedback on this attribute.  Through my experience in Korea, I have learned to frequently check for comprehension to verify that my explanations were clear.  As I mentioned previously, students have said that my explanations are clear.  It is rare occurrence in my class that students are doing something wrong because they misunderstood my instructions or explanations.
  2. Prepare students for examinations (Rammal, 2006; Xiao, 2006) - I don't like the word examinations and prefer assessment.  Based on my education at UMBC, I develop my curricula and syllabi using Instructional Systems Design (ISD), which is one type of backwards-design, a term I learned at the University of Iowa.  It is "backwards" because the curriculum designer/teacher starts with the objectives of the course and develops assessment based on those objectives.  The goal of the class is then to meet those objectives, which the learners and teacher can see evaluated in the assessments, both formative and summative.  I terms of examinations like the TOEFL or university entrance exams, I prefer to not teach to the test.  Fortunately, I have not held a position that required me to teach to a test like those.
  3. Encourage group work and participation (Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Kelley, et al., 1991; Reid, 1987) - When it comes to student participation, I am an egalitarian.  I believe all students should have an equal amount of talking time.  Some thrive in group work while others in whole class discussions.  I encourage group work to give them more opportunities to speak, but also opportunities to learn from each other.  Cooperative learning has been a central element in my pedagogy since I day one.  Student feedback has shown me that they appreciate their group work, and that I have a good balance of group work and individual work.
  4. Tailor content to the students' English levels (Park & Lee, 2006) - This is one of my favorite challenges.  When I was a new teacher, I sometimes had been given content that was written beneath my students' abilities.  I found success by adding elements of critical thinking to the class, so students had to apply the content to their lives and evaluate it.  This actually started my interest in incorporating critical thinking in ESL classes.  On the flip side, I took it upon myself to teach students strategies of how to deal with texts that are too difficult.  Although I had an initial negative reaction to this type of exercise, I received better feedback than I expected at the end.
  5. Provide interesting and meaningful activities (Park & Lee, 2006) - This is a skill that takes time to develop as I needed to learn what is interesting and meaningful for my students.  If I have the opportunity, I like to redesign activities to be more meaningful to students.  Although I have become better at this, I still miss sometimes.  For every class, I usually get comments about specific activities that students loved.  I get more of those then for activities they didn't like.
  6. Use good examples (Griemel-Fuhrmann, 2003; Palmer, 2000) - Knowing the students helps with this too.  When I was a new teacher, most of my examples were ethnocentric, only because I didn't have enough background knowledge of the host culture I was immersed in.  After living in a country for a year, I found that local examples made the content more meaningful for students.  It's more difficult in the US with a mixture of students because some students cannot understand examples.  In this case, almost always the student is appreciative of my effort to find a good example when I cannot find one.
  7. Emphasize vocabulary (Horwitz, 1987; Nunan, 1989; Yorio, 1989) - I'm better at vocabulary instruction than grammar.  I also like vocabulary because it's an opportunity to introduce a new topic with more word associations.  For some of my classes, students will provide feedback indicating words they like or found useful, which I find endearing.
  8. Vary their delivery methods (Chen, 2005; Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Graham, 1987) - I'm better at varying delivery methods on paper than in person.  I prefer to plan at my class with as many different delivery methods as possible and work from there.  I still need to improve in cases when I'm using a delivery method that is failing while I'm teaching.  My faith in this failing method usually ends up failing me for the day.  However, I usually give the method another chance a year or so later where it doesn't fail.  I guess I'm too much of a researcher in this way because I was more interested in the outcome of the method than the outcome of the students.  I have learned this lesson too late in my career.
  9. Emphasize error correction (Nunan, 1989; Rammal, 2006) - I'm conflicted with this attribute as I have received mixed messages from students and classroom observers on this.  What is consistent is that I'm better at correcting students' written errors than their spoken errors.  As for speaking errors, I'm more comfortable with correcting pronunciation than grammar, mainly because of timing.  One of my strongest memories was having a class that was error correction themed because the students were curious about how many errors they make in one class period.  The result inhibited us all for the next day, and I was wise enough to select an activity to get their minds off that day.
  10. Are enthusiastic (Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Kelley, et al., 1991; Palmer, 2000) - I have observed that a teacher's display of enthusiasm for teaching, learning, and students can solve many classroom problems.  My problem is that I sometimes have difficulty displaying it, even though I have it.  I've found that this differs from classroom to classroom.  My strength is displaying calm to keep students' anxieties low.  I have received praise for my calm, but I know that some students would like me to amplify the show of the enthusiasm more often. 
  11. Teach grammar rules (Horwitz, 1987; Yorio, 1989) - I can teach grammar rules, but I dislike teaching it directly.  My career path has given me fewer opportunities to teach grammar than most peers with my level of experience.  When I get the chance to teach grammar I have to dust off my successful grammar lessons from years past.  On the plus side, when I teach grammar students let me know that the explanation was clear. 
  12. Use the students' L1 selectively (Auerbach & Burgess, 1985; Chen, 2005) - In most of my teaching positions, I have not been able to do this well because the program's policy was or resembled an English-only environment.  I was probably most successful with this in my first job in Japan.  Through my education at the University of Iowa, I have learned to embrace the usage of students' L1 in the L2 classroom.
Fairness - examples of this are impartiality, examination preparation, grading, transparency, and workload (Barnes & Lock, 2010).  Effective teachers...
  1. Treat all students impartially (Desai, et al., 2001; Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - This is one of my top priorities, and in student evaluations most students have noticed this.  I let students know that they can speak to me freely any time that they feel I am not treating them impartially.  Every once in a while a student will remark that I was unfair in student evaluations and that often concerns me most, however no specifics are usually given.
  2. Provide clear grading guidelines (Desai, et al, 2001) - In my more recent years, students have praised me about the clarity of my grading guidelines.  This has always been a cornerstone in my syllabus.  I dislike vague guidelines in which the instructor's grading seems unpredictable.  I try to be as consistent as possible and my students have noticed this.
  3. Articulate policies regarding attendance and late assignment submissions (Desai, et al., 2001) - I make this absolutely clear on the first day and in my syllabi.  Through the years, I have grown more flexible concerning  late assignments as I discovered that I was unique as student, having an aversion to procrastination.
  4. Produce examinations which closely relate to work covered in class (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I only teach what I assess as I mentioned in #2 for delivery.
  5. Make examinations which allow students to express their knowledge freely (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I always prefer open-ended questions to give students the opportunity to produce more language.  It's a little messier to grade objectively, but I have provide a rationale for a range of grades.  I only receive negative feedback from students who prefer or are used to multiple choice questions. 
  6. Give prompt assignment feedback (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I've been given great feedback on this.  I feel that I am allowed to spend as much time on feedback as they spent on the assignment.  If it's not a large project, I usually have assignments returned with feedback within a week.  I remember when I was a new teacher at UW-La Crosse, and the surprised look some students had when I had their assignments returned with feedback.
  7. Impose a balanced workload (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I'm not the type of teacher that continues to pile work on my students.  Student evaluations usually have indicated that I give a fair amount of work, but it is difficult.  When I start a new teaching job, I try to find the average workload other teachers give and go with that average.  I prefer not to be the one giving the most work nor the least work.
  8. Are flexible with grading (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I'm flexible as far as final grades go, but I'm less flexible with individual assignments.  This has caused problems because students will think I'm inflexible until the end of class when I look at their work as a whole.  I explain this to them earlier, but they don't believe because I can't prove it until the end.  Perhaps I'm too principled to give an awful assignment a moderate grade, but if that assignment is a fluke, it is forgiven at the end of the course.  Nobody can be perfect, good, or adequate all the time.
  9. Provide pre- and post-examination reviews (Kelley, et al., 1991) - Because I use the ISD approach to curriculum design, I feel that my lessons are pre-assessment reviews, especially for formative papers.  Students not familiar with this style have been apprehensive because they're afraid I will put something on the test that we didn't cover, but I believe that is unfair.  If a student points out that I did this, then that test item becomes a bonus point.  I'm always willing to negotiate.  As far as post-examination reviews, I always do this for formative assessments, but I have found it difficult for students to care for summative ones.
Knowledge & Credibility - Effective teachers...
  1. Are proficient in English (Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005; Park & Lee, 2006; Rammal, 2006) - Nobody has ever questioned my English proficiency.
  2. Go beyond the textbook (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - There is a social element to language that textbooks usually do a poor job at conveying.  Also, the textbook is mostly there for reading and writing.  The best classroom "text" is one that is created in the classroom between students and the teacher.  I have received a lot of good feedback for using textbooks beyond the ways they were intended, to make the language more meaningful for the class.  I also involve the class in an evaluation of the textbook to show them how it helps and handicaps their language acquisition.
  3. Have sound content knowledge of their discipline (Chen, 2005; Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005; Kutnick & Jules, 1993; Xiao, 2006) - This is a tricky statement for language educators because language use is as important as language knowledge.  Sometimes I have had students that know English grammar better than I do, and that used to embarrass me.  My feedback from my professors has shown that I have a solid pedagogical content knowledge base.
  4. Use relevant real world examples in lessons (Faranda & Clarke, 2004; Kelley, et al., 1991) - As I grow older, I get better student evaluations on my use of relevant real world examples in lessons. 
  5. Have sound knowledge of grammar (Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005; Park & Lee, 2006) - My sound knowledge of grammar is a bit rusty in terms of teaching.  Except for the summer of 2011, I haven't demonstrated the breadth my knowledge of grammar to students for almost a decade. 
  6. Are able to teach study techniques (Chen, 2005; Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2005) - I have designed and taught a study skills lab course at UW-La Crosse, but it wasn't an enjoyable class to teach in that it consisted of 100+ students in an auditorium.  Student feedback was consistent in that the high achieving students learned nothing new and the lower achieving students did not find the class worthwhile.  I believe I would different results in a smaller class where I could implement a differentiated learning approach.
  7. Are able to answer complex questions (Faranda & Clarke, 2004) - I encourage complex questions, especially if they are on the lines of critical thinking, the English language, and intercultural communication.  Unfortunately for me, they do not come up as often as I like.  And I'm not good when a complex question that I want to answer well arises with a very limited amount of time to provide the answer.  It is rare that students are willing to hear the complex answer to a complex question.  One reason that I designed this blog was to answer complex questions from my Russian teachers of English.
Organization & Preparation - Effective teachers...
  1. Provide original supplemental material (Kember, et al., 2004; Yorio, 1989) - Although this is not the top of my preparation list, it has received the greatest number of positive comments from students in this list.  I love providing original supplemental material to make the course more relevant to their lives, and some courses are designed with more opportunities to do this than in others. 
  2. Stick to the syllabus (Kember & Wong, 2000; Rammal, 2006) - If I wrote the syllabus, then I am the syllabus.  In the rare event that I do not stick to it, I give students ample warning ahead of time about the change.  Fellow teachers and a couple of supervisors have remarked at my unwavering talent to stick to the syllabus.  It's my contract to the students.  If I don't stick to it, then why should I expect them to?
  3. Lay out all the materials needed for assignments (Kember, et al., 2004) - This is in my syllabus, and I always remind students when to bring certain materials to class.  For students with lower proficiencies of English, it is my responsibility to remind them; if I do not, it is my fault for having students come to class without them. 
  4. Prepare each lesson well (Park & Lee, 2006) - I'm the type of teacher that prepares the whole course ahead of time, and then I make minor adjustments to meet the individual needs for the class.  In this way, the science of teaching is done before the course begins and the art of teaching is done during the course.  It is rare for me to get negative comments on my preparation.
  5. Communicate their course objectives (Kember & Wong, 2000; Kelley, et al., 1991) - My education at UMBC has made this a top priority when I teach.  I have learned that students need to know why objectives are important to know and that some of them are negotiable.  Based on their prior learning experience, some of them are uncomfortable with that amount of power.  Consequently, this has made me more attentive to learner autonomy,
  6. Provide feedback on assessment (Desai, et al., 2001) - I never fail to provide feedback on assessment, but I still grapple with the amount of feedback.  Some students are appreciative of lengthy feedback, some are overdependent on lengthy feedback, and some do not care.  The proportion of these attitudes fluctuate wildly from class to class and semester to semester, and it takes me about midterm to meet their needs in this regard.  For me, that's too much time.  I haven't discussed this topic much with other teachers.
  7. Provide a comprehensive syllabus with content and methodology (Kelley, et al., 1991; Xiao, 2006) - I always provide a comprehensive syllabus with content, but with classes with students with lower levels of proficiency, I limit methodology as those concepts are difficult to understand.  I will usually write what I expect from them as students in my class, but even that is difficult to understand.  If I were teaching in a class where all the students spoke the same L1, then perhaps I could provide a comprehensive syllabus with methodology.  I don't believe our technology is at the point where I can post my methodology online where it can be translated well.
In summary,  I will go over the five major categories quickly in terms of my strengths and weaknesses.

  • Strengths - "Friendly" is one of the most common adjectives found on my student evaluations.  I believe I'm more patient than friendly, but students rarely remark on my patience.  This friendly patience is amplified by my respect for students' input and the concept of wait time.
  • Weaknesses - My sense of humor is not universal, so I'm cautious with being funny.  Because of this caution, sometimes this sense of humor doesn't get out.  Also, I need to display my positive attitude towards students more.
  • Strengths - "Everything is clear" is a quote I've heard from students different classes.  Student comprehension of my lessons is of the utmost importance to me.  Students have often remarked on their appreciation for my group work activities.  They have also made positive comments on my attempts to teach grammar and vocabulary in different ways.
  • Weaknesses - As I tend to be low-key, I need to display my enthusiasm more.  Perhaps I take teaching and learning so seriously that I can seem more serious than enthusiastic. 
  • Strengths - Students have found that my assessments of their language ability are fair.  Of these five categories, I believe fairness is the most important to me as I equate fairness with respect.  Because of my ISD approach to curriculum and instruction, the students are rarely if never surprised that the objectives of the class are met.
  • Weaknesses - I can seem to be inflexible with grading during the class, but this flexibility shows itself at the end of the course.  I need to make this clearer to students to prevent the development of grudges.
Knowledge & Credibility
  • Strengths - My education background demonstrates my knowledge.  Students have appreciated the fact that I go out of my way to make the English language relevant to them, beyond the textbook.
  • Weaknesses - Compared to my colleagues with the same level of experience, I haven't taught grammar rules directly as much.
 Organization & Preparation
  • Strengths - I have impressed supervisors with my level of organization and preparation.  Because of my ISD approach to curriculum and instruction, the syllabus shows a strong connection between the objectives, assessment, and my lessons.
  • Weaknesses - It takes me a while to find the right amount of feedback to give to each student.  I haven't discovered the best strategy for this yet.


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