What have they been up to?

‘I have eyes in the back of my head’. Teachers everywhere

Classroom management is all about knowing and controlling what is going on in your classroom and is a core competency for teachers teaching face to face.  This is reduced to a certain degree in online teaching but we still need to know what our students are getting up to when they think we’re not looking.  Teacher omniscience is not only about behaviour though.  It’s also about appreciating what our students are understanding or struggling with and making decisions about how to address this.  So how can we be sure they are doing what we want them to do?

1. LMS access data

examples of dataUsing the information in Teacher Reports, you can easily track how much time your students have spent in the LMS.  You can filter the reports so that they just show one class so you can see straightaway if anyone is spending a lot less time than the others in the system.  This may mean that the student is slacking and just doing the bare minimum.  Be careful though – it could mean that the student’s level is a bit higher than the others so they are getting through the material faster.  If this is the case you will need to devise some additional tasks e.g. research and blogging that they can do to keep them interested but how do you know which is which?

2. Student progress data

Looking at student progress, you can see very detailed information on how the students are doing at any one time by clicking on the student’s name.  You can even see how many times a student attempted a particular exercise.

students progressLooking at the data for the student above, we can easily see the area she needs more support with.  She probably understands yes/no questions fairly well is struggling with the vocabulary for the lesson.  Hover over learning outcomes to get a clearer picture of what the student should be able to do now that she’s finshed this lesson.

This data isn’t really worth putting on certificates.  It’s for you to get a clear idea of what you need to do in your next face to face session or synchronous activity*.  Think about doing a grammar gamble or a quiz or a communicative activity that uses the language or skills in question that would give you an opportunity to address the issue with the group and see if they can help each other find the answers.

3. Web 2.0 Tools

web 2.0 tools imagesThese communicative tools provide you with a unique window on your students’ world.  You have the chance to see what they are thinking and how they express themselves in ways that are not available to you face to face.  For instance, with Voice Tools you will be able to hear the pronunciation of even those shy students who stop talking whenever they see you approaching.  Because the tasks in the Forum and Blog are directly prepared and scaffolded in the Touchstone content, you can get a very clear picture of what your learners have understood from their activity in the online course.  Take care not to fall into the trap of trying to correct all mistakes for everyone but do invite comment on common errors when in class.  Give them the opportunity to correct themselves as a group first and then fill in the gaps in their knowledge when they’ve run out of options.

Speaking of behaviour, you may still need to check into forums etc to make sure everyone is ‘playing nicely’.  It is important to establish an atmosphere of trust in the online learning environment so that students feel confident enough to risk making mistakes that their peers will see.  If there is anyone in the group who is behaving antisocially, e.g. making fun of other students, they are damaging that atmosphere and negating the value of the community of learners.  Part of the cure for this is to agree ‘class rules’ or netiquette and to emphasise its importance during orientation – not what punishments are available for rule breakers but what value there is for everyone if everyone follows the rules.

We no longer need to have eyes in the back of our heads but we still need to know what our students are getting up to and how we do that is changng too…



‘Mistakes are the portals of discovery’  James Joyce

In Touchstone Blended Learning, students’ mistakes are ‘exposed’ in several ways.  Most obviously, you’ll be able to see and hear their mistakes in the classroom.  In addition you’ll be able to use Student Progress in Teacher Reports from your home page and their posts in the Web 2.0 tools in the LMS.

So really, there is nowhere for their mistakes to hide but what discoveries can we make from all of this?  In Student Progress, it is possible to see your student’s results from each individual activity.  You don’t see their mistakes per se but you see the score.  The fact that you can’t see the mistake is not important.  When you see that a student has a low score, hover over the Learning Outcome and it will show you what the purpose of the exercise was.  This will inform how you plan subsequent lessons as well as help you advise the student on the best course of action for them to take to improve.

When we write or speak in another language there are different kind of mistakes we produce.  Mistakes of distraction happen when we’re rushing or not paying enough attention to what we’re doing.  Mistakes of lack of understanding happen when we don’t know the rules or the words.  Both are useful for the learning and teaching process.  If your learners are making inconsistent mistakes around a point of grammar for example that show that they do not understand what they have done in class, you can either direct them to the supplementary resources in the LMS or ask them to do the relevant section of the online course or plan a review into your next class.

If it is clear to you that your students understand the rules but are making mistakes here and there, this is your chance to institute some self correction measures.  Give them a short form like the self evaluation example here to prompt them to review their work and train them to do this every time before they post something or hand something in.  Alternatively, you can ask them to use the same form to evaluate a partner’s work and train them to give constructive diplomatic feedback.  In this way, the discovery is not so much seeing that they have made a mistake but realise that they can correct themselves and make decisions about what they need to study next and what they need to review again.

All this is sounding like a lot of work.  Don’t forget that not every mistake needs to be corrected and that this can be counterproductive as students may lose confidence and end up demotivated.  If in class you focussed on the present perfect, then when correcting or reviewing work, focus on the present perfect.  If you looked at the organisation of a text, then focus on students’ organisation and don’t worry about spelling and punctuation.  In this way you will be able to more clearly evaluate your students’ learning lesson by lesson and give them positive feedback and more specific suggestions for improvement.  It will also save you a lot of time!

It is true that we learn from our mistakes, as well as those of others, but we can also learn from what we do well.  Highlight this in class.  While it is tempting to always look at mistakes as areas of potential improvement, it’s also important to recognise achievement to help boost confidence and a sense of ‘being able to do this.’

Try this with your learners and let us know how they respond.