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October 20, 2016

There are some great apps out there, Class Dojo being one that quickly pops to mind, that allow teachers to comment on various aspects of their students classroom performance, from attendance to academic performance to classroom behavior. It seems to me though, that entering comments on the HCT portal serves exactly the same purpose, and more importantly, the comments are taken seriously by the students; portal comments are immediately viewed by the students, their teachers, and their program chair, and are easily accessible to conscientious parents.




On the surface, there are already a number of reasons why we should be engaging with portal comments. Firstly, you’ve likely been told by your chair or academic coordinator to make comments for administrative purposes where they can be used when meeting with students and their parents. Portal commentary has also proven beneficial to teachers unfamiliar with a new class of students. Teachers can view the portal comments from a previous cycle or semester and glean expectations on a given group.


A third area, one which I believe gets lost amidst the administrative necessities of the portal, is the power that it has over our students. The fact that portal comments become a permanent part of a student’s academic record makes them of great motivational tool for teachers. Students receive automatic notifications when portal comments are entered, so they will read them and on many occasions show these comments to their classmates. Even more, as mentioned previously, conscientious parents will take note of these comments. The dynamics of this will certainly have an effect on motivating the students.





Here are some areas that I tend to focus on when it comes to making portal comments that encourage and motivate my students:


  • Attendance:

Portal comments are a great way of nipping attendance issues in the bud. I’m not referring to early morning lateness due to traffic or other transportation issues. I’m referring to attendance issues that occur when the students are on campus. One issue which I’m certain many of us have dealt with is the student or group of students who return late or fail to return from the break b/t our 50 minute sessions. I recently left portal comments for a group of students who did not return to class after the break. This occurred during the first two weeks of the cycle.

Here is an example of such a comment:

“ Hi ____________, You and your friends ________ and ______________ did not return to class after the break today. You missed a very important part of the lesson because you were supposed to complete today’s Spelling City vocabulary practice test. Successful students do not do this. Successful students work hard in and attend each and every class. If you want to get to IELTS Band 5 you must work harder in class”.

Since then, I haven’t had a repeat occurrence, not only with the class but with my other sections as well. I attribute this to the students taking portal comments seriously. As much as I like apps like Class Dojo, an unhappy face and a fail sounding buzzer aren’t going to discourage students from repeating that behavior. In terms of the portal message, it is non-threatening in tone and encouraging in terms of tying it into becoming a successful student and achieving the ultimate goal of IELTS Band 5. A message that is overbearing and threatening in tone is not a tactic I like to employ, perhaps only as a last resort.



  • Classroom Behavior and Work Ethic

I typically generate commendations for positive behavior that add to the classroom learning dynamic along with comments on behavior that negatively impact the classroom learning environment. Students are encouraged by the positive to continue engaging in that type of productive classroom behavior, and they’re discouraged to continue on with the negative behavior. In terms of negative behavior, again I try to avoid strongly worded, overly negative tones in the message. Overly critical and harsh comments could backfire in terms of keeping the student engaged and getting them back on the right track. They could end up viewing it more as a threat as opposed to an observation or piece of advice. Again, I tend to couch comments in terms of what it means to be a “successful student” and what qualities it takes to become a “bachelor’s student”. For example, if a student is causing disturbances in class I might write the following:

“Hi _______________, I’ve noticed in the past few classes that you haven’t been performing well as a student. If you want to be successful in Foundations and the Bachelor’s program you must change this behavior. A “successful student” will always participate well in all class activities, and will help their classmates to participate well. If you want to be a successful student and get to the Bachelor’s program you must focus in class and participate well in all class activities.”

In terms of commenting on positive behavior, I try to identify activities where advance preparation combined with a strong work ethic are required, and where the classroom learning dynamic would benefit from more of the same type of behavior. For instance, I frequently have students present their vocabulary Keynote presentations to one another in small groups, and in doing so I have a detailed criteria that they must follow. Typically, students rush through the preparation and delivery of their presentations, glossing over the presentation criteria. For students who present with care and passion I might write at the following:

“Hi _________________. Your vocabulary presentation to your group was very good. The presentation included all of the required parts, and your teaching was excellent. You really showed that you cared about teaching your students. You are showing what it means to be a successful students in the Foundations Program, and with continued excellent work in class like this you will become a successful student in the Bachelor’s program. Keep up the great work! “


I noticed a marked difference in the quality of in class work once word hit the street that a few students received positive feedback on the portal. I even had students coming up to ask that I comment positively on their work. Of course, I took advantage of this and said “of course I will, just show me what it takes to be a successful student”.


It goes without question that all Foundations instructors realize that many of our students enter the FIP program with limited English and academic skills. The more we can do to encourage them to develop their in class study behavior and skills the better. I say feeding the portal with encouragement helps to pave the way for student success. Whether or not the students choose to take that road is another question, but we can certainly do our best to lead them there.

October 20, 2016
Featured Articles, Teaching & Learning


  1. Robert Miles says:

    Great article – you have some really good examples here of effective portal comments. It's important to keep them constructive and focussed, and you've done that well. I'll be sharing this…

  2. Shifa Desai Shifa Desai says:

    Relevant, useful, practical, well-written, teacher-friendly, student-friendly – your article ticks all the boxes, Gerry