Some ideas related to the encouragement of autonomous learning in an ESL student-centered classroom involve students in the design of a class content, variable degrees of responsability for their own learning experiences, the use of a number of learning strategies, reflections about their classroom performance, self-evaluation, peer-evaluation and evaluation of their instructors. Students give feedback to their tutors from a very young age, reinforcing their thinking skills, and making them aware of their likes, preferences, and talents. Young generations of teachers might forget about the more traditional ESL classrooms where they took full responsability for the class content and results.
While there are several on-line feedback tools other than the all-known on-line surveys and polls, AnswerGarden seems to stand apart because of its minimalistic design, user friendliness, and versatility. The garden administrator, which might be the teacher or a student, can create an answer garden in a few minutes. Firstly, it is necessary to post a topic or question, such as “What would you like to discuss in our next session?” The garden can be embedded in the class discussion forum, weblog, or facebook group, and the students can provide their answers to this topic anonymously. While each garden allows a maximum number of twenty-five different answers, using twenty characters at most, it is important to mention that as users give the same answer to a question, this answer will grow bigger on the screen.
Its minimalistic design allows this application to be used not only to provide feedback, but as a brainstorming tool, to describe story chapters and characters, and so forth. Larry Ferlazzo believes that the fact that gardens can be answered anonymously might be problematic in many school settings, though it can be useful with mature students, and the tool provides editing privileges to the garden administrator.
I would personally use this application in my classrooom on a daily or weekly basis to get my students’ feedback about a variety of topics to enhance my lesson preparation, and assure that I respond to my students’ interests and preferences. The twenty-character limit makes this tool optimal to obtain a global panorama about a given issue of concern, and it can be used routinarily to promote exchanges. It would make a great tool to test the waters in my classroom environment, and adapt my class activities as needed. This would be an informal, day-to-day, friendly feedback tool, which would add to more standarized, institutional evaluation means.