Demotivating feedback

Quite recently I was approached about writing short stories for German KS3 (I had applied for another project, but I was asked to work on this one). I was really excited about the project. I relished the challenge of writing materials in German (not something I’ve previously done) and being creative. I thought it would also do my German the power of good. I miss speaking it and am not using it as much as I’d like.

I was to write 7 short stories, with one based loosely on a fairy tale, and a poem based on the theme of crime, spies and detectives. I love a good spy/detective novel (my bookshelves at home are full of them (English and German!)), so I was more than happy with the topic. Straight away I scribbled down possible plot ideas, and, to my surprise a few lines of a possible poem. In quite a short space of time I had my preliminary ideas sketched out, so I started on the first short story. I wrote my first draft quite quickly and started revising the story, ensuring it was simple enough and was within the word limit. I also checked that the language used would be familiar to pupils (i.e. daily routine and hobby vocabulary) where I could, with some unfamiliar words (which would be possible to guess in context) to add a bit of challenge . I finally checked my German for accuracy: I was most worried about this, as I’ve not written in German for a long time. Once I was vaguely happy with the story itself, I added the pre- and post reading exercises.

I sent the first story off for review, with some trepidation: it was the first time I’d written for this publisher and my first German material. Having said that I was more than willing to take feedback, however harsh, as I see the project as a great chance for professional development and know I’m a novice in writing MFL materials. When I received the feedback I was genuinely very happy, it was mostly constructive and developmental. Some of the feedback I didn’t really agree with (i.e. introducing and translating all possibly unknown vocabulary before reading), but thought it’s what the publisher wants, so I’ll accept it. However, one comment I found very hard to deal with (and still struggle with). As part of my pre-reading activities I had included a prediction exercise which apparently “is not enhancing their knowledge of German or their understanding of the text”.

Ok, so all the research into prediction and how it helps to deal with unknown language (as readers can guess meaning through context), is not valid? All these EFL books that use prediction aren’t helping students’ language skills? I was, and still am, a little shocked that an educational publisher actually gave this feedback.

Since receiving this feedback my enthusiasm for the project has waned, pretty much to the extent of disappearing.  I feel that I’m being asked to produce something very robotic, encouraging mechanical language use and over reliance on having vocabulary provided,  and not something that would truly develop pupils’ language skills. The feedback has really negatively affected my attitude towards the project.

This experience has, again, highlighted the importance of good feedback, and not just ‘good’ in the sense of developmental and supportive, but also in terms of being aware of what’s happening in education and learning.

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About sarahali

I am linguist working in the EFL field. I started my teaching career in East Germany in 1997, continuing for a while (7 years) in Austria before settling back in the UK, where I am now based. I have taught English in various forms (ESP, ESOL, Business English, EFL (general) and EAP) to students ranging from 3 years of age to 80. I am currently writing, developing and editing teaching material and curricular for the Arabic speaking world, as well as African countries. I'm also teaching EAP and proofreading academic essays. I speak English, German and French, with a basic knowledge of Arabic and Spanish.
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4 Responses to Demotivating feedback

  1. kurtthekurt says:

    Qualifizierte Rueckmeldungen finde ich auch extrem wertvoll und hilfreich. Was Du schilderst klingt so, als waerst Du ueberrascht davon, dass Deiner Fachmeinung widersprochen wird (von einem “Auftraggeber”, der mit einiger Wahrscheinlichkeit weniger Expertise hat als Du). In der Situation wuerde ich ohne viel Nachdruck versuchen, von meinem Standpunkt zu ueberzeugen, aber im Zweifelsfall “Na gut, wer zahlt schafft an” denken. Lass Dich nicht demotivieren!

  2. Lucy says:

    What a shame this detracts from all the things you are relishing, and clearly doing so well in. I feel this is not really about feedback, but about methodology/pedagogical approach clash. Even if you found many robust sources to back up claims for the efficacy of prediction I doubt the publisher perspective would change. As long as text books have all that vast body of competing and identical pedagogical tasks types then playing safe is what is done. But your readers will engage with the text you write and enjoy it for its own sake, so maybe that is the best focus. A thought, if the publication is in any way intended for (future?) use by individuals (self study) then prediction is not really feasible? I just had to overview a reworking of an in class book for repurposing as an app for a beacons in the smart city project http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/salsa/ and I saw this “do you like art? Explain to yourself why you do or don’t like art”.! so, imagining that the way the book is used is for non interaction purposes, perhaps that feedback makes sense in a way. I have a brilliant young German English teacher friend who left teaching German and Spanish at x university because of exactly as you describe. Her years of ELT had made the job untenable because the same approaches were not welcomed, and she felt the way the languages were taught at that uni in the MFL dept were misguided. Anyway, I hope the rest of the writing (The stories!) goes well! @MobilePedagogy

    • sarahali says:

      I’m not sure what the future intention of the publication is, but you make a point about prediction tasks being harder to complete as individuals (although not impossible). It does seem that MFL seems to have very different approaches to EFL.

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