Feed(back) Me!

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As a teacher trainer, finding a balance in feedback between making sure the participants get what you need them to get (the trainer’s agenda) and develop the skill of reflection (the participant’s agenda) is quite challenging.

When I first started leading feedback as a fledgling trainer, my own agenda often took precedence. I thought that the most important thing was that the participants discovered with heavy or light guidance the significant moments that supported what was being taught in the course. This was effective in some ways because they were able to improve their teaching and better their knowledge about the course material. However, they were not developing as reflective practitioners and, more importantly, they were not developing beliefs about teaching and learning that were completely their own.

I was holding their hands, leading, cajoling, and explaining until finally they came to the conclusion I needed them to reach. I didn’t realize that I was only fulfilling one objective of feedback until, without realizing the full impact of what I was doing, I began to make small changes in the structure of my feedback sessions. I felt feedback had too much trainer talking time so I changed the sessions to be more participant centered. At the end of that course, one the participants said to me, “I can’t believe how easy feedback is now. I can look at the lesson without you and clearly find the most important moments. This is so useful because I will be able to improve after the course is finished! I always look forward to feedback and it is my favorite part of the day!” I was so impressed by this because before that, participants often remarked on how much their teaching had improved, but not on how much their reflection had improved. Since that course I have continued to tweak my feedback sessions and I have found that 3 things have made all the difference.

First, I like to make sure that the focus is on the participants and not on me, the trainer. In order to do this I make feedback groups. I split the class in half and have each group focus on one teacher for half of the time and then the teachers switch to the next group. This gives both groups a chance to talk about both lessons (in my training context, 2 teachers have lessons each day) and having their eyes on each other instead of on me creates a safer and tighter (bonding-wise) feedback environment. While the participants discuss, I monitor and listen, taking notes on points I would like to comment on. After about 10 minutes, I check in with each group and open a dialog about the points I noted, or bring up a point I felt was missed. The groups switch, the teachers update the new group on the points already discussed and continue the dialog. At the end, we come back together and the teachers share the new beliefs they have formed about teaching with the whole class and make specific goals concerning changes to implement and ideas to continue in the next lesson.

Second, I have provided my participants with a chart to help guide their reflection while I am monitoring. We use the Experiential Learning Cycle in our course and so the headings of the chart reflect a stage in the cycle.

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It is up to the participants whether or not they want to take notes. I encourage them at the beginning of the course to write down Interpretations, Generalizations and Action Plans so they can see how everything is linked. However, as the course goes on, they often just take notes of Generalizations and Action Plans that they would like to share with the whole class at the end of feedback. Often in the last week of the course, they don’t need the chart anymore because they are familiar enough with the process of reflection that they can do it on their own. This chart really aids in the scaffolding of feedback from the first feedback session to the last.

The last thing I do is I make sure that the first thing the participants discuss in their groups is the objective of the lesson.  They think about the production activity or the deepest receptive skill activity and fully analyze whether or not the objective was met, how much it was met, and why this happened. By putting the focus on the goal of the lesson, I have found my participants’ analysis has primarily dealt with the key moments of the lesson. It has often been a problem in feedback that participants, left to their own devices, would often talk about moments in the lesson that didn’t reflect a key learning moment for their students. They would discuss what they remembered about their teaching, but not much about the students or how they acted/reacted in the lesson. By putting proper emphasis on the objective the participants naturally start thinking about the goals of the lesson based on their students’ performance. This not only increased their awareness of the students while teaching, but also caused them to develop a greater sensitivity to scaffolding the lesson to guide the students to the objective.

So, there it is–my 3 cents about feedback. I am still tweaking, adjusting, and changing what I do during these guided reflection sessions. Every group is different and takes to feedback and reflection in a different way. Sometimes this drives me crazy because I know I will never find the perfect format for feedback, but I think with these ideas under my belt I am on the right track!

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