Dr. Jennifer Valko on the Value of Feedback


Dr. Jennifer Valko, Associate Professor, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Foreign Language and Literature, East Carolina University

Dr. Jennifer Valko
Department of Foreign
Language and Literature
East Carolina University

Recognizing how much her students’ backgrounds resemble her own profile is a motivating factor for Dr. Jennifer Valko, an Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures who has been at ECU since 2004. As a non-native speaker of Spanish who took many of the same courses as her students during her undergraduate studies, Dr. Valko can relate to their experience. "Mastering a second language is challenging, yet quite achievable and essential in our increasingly globalized society," she said. Moreover, like many of her students, Dr. Valko was the first in her family to go to college, and she appreciates that some students may need a little more guidance and patience.

"Knowing that my professor cares about my education is refreshing," one student wrote when College STAR surveyed students last year.

Dr. Valko was also praised for an extremely interactive instructional strategy. She explained that while many foreign language students are surprised that she has them work in a circle or semi-circle, it is a common strategy in language classes. "I want students to be able to connect with each other and see each other speaking," she said. "It’s community building."

Dr. Valko’s detailed, constructive feedback was also appreciated by students. "The students would write a first rough draft for a peer editing session with their classmates. After making the suggested corrections, they would turn in a second rough draft to the professor. The professor would put a lot of effort into editing and writing comments on each student's draft. The student would be returned their draft with the feedback and were required to make the corrections for the final draft," one student wrote.

"If needed, the students could meet with the professor to discuss the suggested comments. This strategy was extremely helpful because it allowed me to recognize the common mistakes I always make when writing in Spanish. I have never had a professor provide me with as many suggestions/comments for my essays as Dr. Valko. Most professors only require a final draft for their essays and return them to students with only a few corrections. For this reason, most students don't even read their professor's feedback because it isn't helpful and they already received a grade. Dr. Valko's strategy which requires students to read and utilize professor feedback has truly helped me learn how to write effectively in a foreign language."

The value of effective and timely feedback is a theme that consistently emerges in student surveys, said Dr. Diane Majewski, Project Director for College STAR at ECU. "Students seem to prefer the use of assessment and feedback to ensure mastery of course content beyond simply using these tools to assign course grades," she explained.

"I’ll do anything that I can to make my students successful and feel confident," Dr. Valko said. She added that she is aware that nearly every class has non-traditional students including those with learning differences and scheduling challenges. "I stick to my syllabus, provide clear instructions, models, and evaluation criteria for graded assignments and don’t randomly change dates so they can plan their time and enjoy success," she said.