Field Research: Student Evaluations In September of 2006, I had the


In September of 2006, I had the opportunity to teach conversational English to graduate students at Huazhong University in China. On the last day of teaching, I asked students to write up an evaluation regarding the activities they liked best. Highlights included: the importance of establishing teacher rapport, the need to provide a wide variety of engaging activities and the value of peer interaction.

Establishing rapport between the students and the teacher is a key factor in encouraging students to participate in class. The littlest things—like remembering names -- can make a big difference: “As a student when you said my name without looking at the name list. I’m so excited and joyful. I think it’s important to a student.” Smiling is another simple thing any beginner can do: “At the beginning of this report, I felt so nervous. When I looked at you, you smiled to me kindly and warmly, which encouraged me very much.” When they students feel supported, they gain courage as is noted in these representative comments: “I think the most helpful thing is talking with you. I was worried about talking to with someone else in English. But you and Barbara [team teacher] made me courageous” and “In your class, you let me more brave to speak English and encourage me.”

The students also responded positively to the American style of teaching which was quite different from the more authoritarian Chinese approach. “I think the activities in you class is very different with the Chinese teacher’s class. It’s so lively and joyful. I like it.” They appreciated having a wide variety of engaging interactive activities. “The activities that could inspire our enthusiasm were the most helpful to us.” They especially liked games and songs, as is apparent from just a few comments. “I like play English games, for example, sing English songs, English word puzzles, play games use speak English, ask and answer questions in English. I learn a lot of English knowledge and culture from these games.” “I like some games such as baseball or guessing who I am because the atmosphere is relaxed when we do these games.”

Two of the activities that received a lot of positive comments were Verbal Baseball -- “guessing the famous person “yes/no” exercise. I believe that one of the reasons these two were so popular was that they called upon the students to use their intelligence. Limited language skills do not mean limited intelligence. “The baseball game not only let me speak, but also teach me some knowledge I didn’t know.” “I think the yes/no questions helped me the most. It make my brain thinking and thinking. I love this game.” “I think the activity of answer questions on cards is the most helpful because this activity is not only improve our English but also enhance our knowledge” “The play of ‘guess who you are’ let me thinking logically.”

The most surprising thing that I learned from the students’ evaluations was that their hands-down favorite activity was the 2-4 minute oral report. Having been consistently told how shy Chinese students were, I almost didn’t assign it, but now I’m glad I did. “During the process of talking my own story, I learned how to organize my words to express my own feelings. I like this activity very much.” “I believe that is is very helpful to prepare for the 3-4 minute report. Because I must look in the dictionary to know the new words and I must keep practicing the report, correcting my accent.” “Saying my own views alone in spoken English is the most helpful to me.”

Students also indicated that they liked group work because it was helpful to have the support of their peers: “I think the most helpful exercise for me is making a story in a group and then telling it to the classmates in the classroom. It makes me more confident.” “Many games, divided into several groups to discuss. Everyone has the opportunity to perform.” “The team work activities help us to join in a team and help each other to perform the exercise.”

Of course, the most gratifying part of reading the evaluations was hearing that the students felt they had made progress in speaking English. “Some days ago, my oral English and dictation were very poor because I was lack courage and couldn’t speak to everyone. During this month, I am surprised and find my English improves well through Barbara’s and your serious and hearty teaching. Now I am fond of studying English very much. I can talk with other loudly and freely in English. So thank you for teaching us.” A final student comment provides a succinct closing bit of advice: “I think the most important factor in learning English is talk, talk, and talk.”

Works Cited

All quotes are taken from student evaluations completed by Classes 81, 82, 83, and 84 during the English Month Program, Huazhong University {HUST}, Wuhan, China, September 4-22, 2006. Sponsoring American organizations: Teach for Friendship (TFF) and Yingwen Teach. The quotes are from authentic source documents, transcribed as written by the students. I did not correct their English.