This post is part of a reflective series called The Teacher Trainer Diaries, in which I write about my experiences as a teacher trainer.
Observations. They are stressful for both teachers and trainers. Most teachers would agree that it’s difficult to be ‘happy’ with the notion that a trainer will come into your classroom with intent to analyse your teaching. Speaking from my own experience, it can be nerve-racking, face-threatening and demotivating at times (Delta Module 2 observations were insanely stressful). This being said, the observation itself certainly stresses teachers, however it’s the feedback that causes the angst and stress for a lot of teachers. This entry focuses on a recent feedback session in which written feedback was misunderstood, the importance of providing both written and oral feedback, and we will also look at a number of ways in which in which the feedback procedure can be realised.
A recent feedback session
The impetus for this entry was a feedback session I conducted with one of my teachers a few weeks ago. The lessons itself was ok, however there were some points that needed to be addressed – mainly points regarding teacher language and learning objectives. As usual, the lesson finished and the teacher submitted their post-lesson reflection, a short document with some reflective questions. Now, it is at this stage that I sent out the written feedback – every formal observation has an observer document where observations are written in and feedback is given. When we conducted the oral feedback, it was clear that the teacher was anxious and perhaps even a little upset, but it wasn’t due to the fact that the teacher was unaware that there were certain elements of the lesson that were not a successful/appropriate as they could/should have been (in fact they were). No, rather it was the final comments that I had included in the observer document.
During the oral feedback session, we discussed these comments and I was happy to see the teacher’s expression and demeanour change. I asked the teacher why they had felt so nervous/angry at the beginning of the session and they said it was because they had read the feedback in a different tone of voice. For example, I hope that we can move forward with more development-focused coaching sessions was read as I HOPE that we can (finally) move forward with more development-focused coaching sessions (because you haven’t been doing them lately). This really shocked me and made me realise the importance of writing written feedback cautiously – words can easily be misconstrued, as was the case here (in the context of the observer document, this was meant to be received extremely positively). But, more than this, it made realise the importance of providing both written and oral feedback so that discussions like this can be had, agreements on what happens can be made, and so that, in the end, the observation process is viewed as positive, beneficial and, most importantly, developmental.
In her book ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook, Barsdell (2018, pp. 101) states that most observers provide oral feedback first and then written feedback last. She also says that there are others ways in which the feedback process could be conducted, e.g. written feedback preceding oral feedback. Let’s have a look at a number of these possibilities .
Reflection – Oral Feedback – Written Feedback
This is what most observers and training courses do. It is what is done on Delta courses (mine, at least) and, I would say, in most schools, academies (my opinion only; I have no statistics to back this up).
Points to consider:
- The observer can talk the teacher through what they have written. This will no doubt alleviate problems such as the one that I encountered in the feedback session I mentioned. It also allows the teacher to talk about each of the points in the moment that they hear them.
- This allows the observer to draw out how the teacher felt and include this in the feedback before finalising the document.
- Both the teacher and the observer can agree what the final document will say/look like. For many teachers, this is vitally important as the document is likely to be seen by the DoS, influence potential career progression, development opportunities, etc.
Reflection – Written Feedback – Oral Feedback
This is the procedure we run in our programme.
Point to consider:
- This procedure allows the teacher time to digest the observer’s comments and form their own so that when the oral feedback session takes place, both parties have viewed all of the feedback and are both fully informed.
- It can relieve some of the stress of ‘waiting’ for the feedback. With lessons that go as planned and the identified potential areas of growth are not unexpected, this ensures that the oral feedback session will focused entirely on the development of those areas mentioned.
- Sometimes teachers think their lessons went really well and that there were no potential areas of growth/development (although I would argue that this situation is rarely the case – there is always something that can be improved, tweaked, etc.). This procedure reduces some of that shock and allows them to come to the oral feedback session prepared.
- The observer can task the teacher with analysing or reflecting on a critical event, i.e. an unplanned incident that occur during teaching (Richards & Farrell, 2005, pp. 122), prior to the oral feedback session.
The rationale behind our programme choice
Looking at these points and reflecting on my own experience delivering and receiving feedback, I believe that the Reflection – Written Feedback – Oral Feedback is best for our academy. Why? Well, even though there may be misunderstandings with what has been written down, I would much prefer that teachers come to the oral feedback session having viewed all of the observer comments from the lesson, the comments they have left parallel to the observation criterion, and having had time to form their own opinions about said comments. It also allows for a more in-depth conversation around the potential areas of growth. Having said this, no matter which procedure an institute chooses, one thing remains clear in my mind – there is a need to for both oral and written feedback. I think that any teacher training and development programme that aims to provide feedback to teachers with only one of these is will sooner or later encounter problems.
Taking everything I have written into consideration, I think it’s important to write that at the end of the year I will be evaluating our development programme. One of the areas of evaluation will be how both teachers and trainers felt with the feedback procedure. Nothing is ever set in stone, and so should change be needed, change will be seen. But enough about me, what about you? Are you a trainer? If so, what procedure do you prefer and why? If you are a teacher receiving the feedback, which would you feel more comfortable with? Feel free to leave your comments or to get in touch via the contact page!
Barsdell, J. (2018). ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook. (n.p.): Jeanette Barsdell.
Richards, J.C. & Farrell, T. (2005). Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for teacher learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.