ELC: Questions and Answers

The Ginkgo Tree Leaves

The Ginkgo Tree Leaves

A basis for this post is a debate, or professional discussion between ELT professionals about different ways to understand and use the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) in reflection. In one of my recent posts I made an attempt to look at different models of the ELC that I am aware of, and shared the one I prefer to use for reflecting. The comment section shows that this discussion is still relevant!

In the Q & A below I am sharing some answers to the questions that have been discussed on training courses, in teachers rooms, with my co-trainers on a course via in e-mails, the questions asked by course participants (both new and experienced teachers) and some questions asked to the participants to help them see the value of reflecting through the ELC.

How do I choose a moment to reflect on?

– This is very personal, and really depends on a situation, on reflective ‘lens’ and even time available. For someone starting to use the Cycle I would say that a part of the lesson about 3-5 minutes long can be a good moment. By ‘moment’ I mean an interaction between teacher and student, or between two students (or more), or a specific task used in class, or an activity, or setting instructions for something new, or making a board record, etc. Also, the process of choosing this moment is a beginning of the reflective process (because we decide what is ‘key’ or ‘important’ or ‘worth reflecting’ )

 How many stages is ‘best’ or ‘right’ for effective reflection through the ELC?

– I don’t think there exists an objectively** perfect answer. To me personally it is important that as detailed as possible description of the moment is present and is followed by interpretation (including analysis and generalizations) and clear plan of action, or action point for future is formed. Therefore, my cycle has four stages.

** more about ‘ objectivity’ below in the sections about Feelings

Can the number of stages vary from day to day?

– Perhaps not as often as every day, but I like the idea of reconsidering the concept of one’s reflective cycle, reflecting on it and coming up with the model that works for you personally, the model you find helpful and ‘effective’ for your own professional growth.

Are all the parts of the cycle equally important? Which stage of the ELC is the most important and why? Can I skip a stage and still consider that I use the ELC for reflection?

– To me, each part is important, and I strongly believe that only complete cycle can actually help in reflection and developing. Describing helps seeing the situation in a lesson as ‘completely’ as it is possible, and it also helps a teacher pay close attention to the students in class. Analyzing why the situation is helpful or not for the specific group of students, or the lesson objectives, or the course goals, etc., and thinking about more than one possible reasons, helps a teacher to open their mind for options and alternatives. Making generalizations, or formulating beliefs about learning and teaching helps to become aware and more confident of their own style, and deciding on future actions links reflection and action and… allows further reflection.

Does (could) using the Cycle limit our reflection process?

– I don’t think it does. It structures reflection, but it is a flexible model that allows a lot of ‘maneuver’ It is you who decides on the ‘depth’ you want to go to in reflection, on the lens, or ‘angle’ to look at, and of course on what exactly you would like to focus (is this about students interaction, or the tasks set, or the materials used, or the questions asked, or the writing they produced, or the parents, or… anything!). Each teacher can see their own benefit, creating their own action plan for future from a reflection session

Is the actual experience a part of the learning cycle?

– Definitely yes (the reason why we call it ‘experiential learning!’)

Is the actual experience a part of the reflective cycle?

– To me, the whole point of calling it ‘reflective’ cycle, is separating the actual experience from reflection and looking at it ‘from above’ so t say. For example, if we look at the lesson as ‘experience’ that happened, the ‘reflection’ after that will be based on the description, analysis, etc. of that lesson.

Is the ELC similar to ‘trial and error‘ method?

It is similar in some ways (we experience something and then think about it), but different in other ways: the whole point of analysis and making conclusions, or generalizations, and specific action plan brings the ELC on another level. (my own opinion, and I would love to hear what the readers think about it)

Can I give someone feedback on the lesson they taught using the cycle?

– Definitely yes: starting with description of a particular moment and then going into interpreting, etc. makes the feedback process less stressful, more objective and therefore meaningful for the feedback receiver. (will write more about this in a different post)

Can I choose where to start (or Do I have to describe first?)

– It is a very good question, and I think it can become a separate blog post. I will respond briefly: the idea of looking closely at a particular lesson, or a group of students, helps us [teachers, trainers] focus as much as possible on the actual experience and people, as opposed to our previous knowledge and beliefs (of what a good class is, of theories and approaches, etc.) Starting from describing what happened defines the ‘experiential’ part of learning. Starting from any other part, in my opinion, is a more traditional, or deductive way of learning, which most of us have experienced in our formal education.

Can we only reflect about the moments in the classroom? (where else can the ELC be used?)

– I think the beauty, or the magic of the ELC is that it can basically be applied to any area of life, be it personal or professional, private or public, offline or online. Just choosing a moment and then describing it (as objectively as we only can) already brings a lot of light and food for thoughts. This is perhaps a tool to have a mindful and purposeful life (or… am I just idealizing it?)

Do Feelings participate in the Cycle?

– I think being aware of the feelings is very important, and perhaps naming them, or writing them down is a good step towards making the description objective. What I said in the previous sentence is about the feelings of the person who reflects, or who describes. Any attempt to say how the others felt is already an interpretation to me (unless they actually shared the feelings verbally) I think feelings can ‘color’ the moment we are describing and examining them, looking at the actions and events, or ‘facts’ is a helpful way to later analyze the feelings and their impact on what is happening. Josette LeBlanc is writing about how to connect the ELC and Nonviolent Communication. You can read about it in is this post. The image, the links and the comments after this post are a good source for more thoughts about where the feelings stand in our reflection and self-perception.

 Where and how can we share feelings about the moment we reflect on?

– As I see it, the feelings can be shared before description is started, or after the description is complete. In this way there will be a chance to put the feelings out, and an attempt will be made to stay objective (or ‘free from emotions’) for the time to describe. I would like to quote my friend and colleague Wilma Luth here: ‘Although the key moment that we want to look at and reflect on probably stands out because of the strong emotion connected with it (‘This went really well!’ or ‘That didn’t go very well!’) when we describe the moment we want to do so without the feelings interfering with our description‘.

Update: you can read more about feelings and emotions in this post.


In my ideal world of blogging your comments under this post will add to the debate, both new questions and new answers (and I am actually hoping for more questions than answers!)

P.S. There is a group of reflective bloggers applying the ELC to write about the challenges they face in teaching and training. Please visit John Pfordresher‘s blog and read this post about the Descriptive Challenge. It will also help you ‘meet’ the other members of our reflective crew (just follow the links). Joining the Reflective Challenge is another great step to make!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
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21 Responses to ELC: Questions and Answers

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    An interesting, comprehensive, summarizing post, Zhenya – comprehensible and useful for those who’ve already come across this concept but also for newbies in this field. My favorite question is: Can I give someone feedback on the lesson they taught using the cycle? My answer would be 100% yes! I believe that traditional observation practice should actually be changed into one drawing on ELC. It would be helpful to hear only the non-judgmental description of the lesson first. The observer would also avoid any emotional statements in this phase, only saying what happened in the lesson. This is, I believe, what the observer is there for – to watch and describe. Ideally, the observee would later (preferably not on the same day) analyze the description and I’d prefer it if the observer remained silent in this phase. Then, in the action plan phase, they could discuss and agree on changes and improvements. I think that observation would become less daunting an experience if the observer withdrew a little – they are not the ones who matter after all.

    My question would be: How could the students become part of the ELC? Should they be trained to provide description of the lesson, its analysis and suggestions as to potential changes?


    • “This is, I believe, what the observer is there for – to watch and describe. Ideally, the observee would later (preferably not on the same day) analyze the description and I’d prefer it if the observer remained silent in this phase. ”

      – I really like this Hana. I have talked elsewhere before about how when I used to observe teachers, I always tried to do the feedback on a different day. However, some teachers wanted some form of feedback, or to discuss the class immediately after. I think applying the ELC framework, and perhaps doing the description part quite soon after the class, and then leaving the analysis to another day satisfies the teacher, but also allows enough space for reflection.


      • Hana Tichá says:

        Hi David. I totally understand those teachers who want to hear something right after the observed lesson. I think it’s because traditional observation, especially the subsequent feedback, feels like the Oscar vs. Razzie Award ceremony (at least where I work). If it was done in a less threatening way (the ELC way, for example), one wouldn’t have to fear anything and thus would become less impatient. And as a great part of the responsibility would be shifted to the observee anyway, more time would only mean higher quality reflection.


        • Zhenya says:

          Hi Hana and David,

          Thank you both for your thoughtful comments – as always, they are inspiring and motivating to think further!

          I loved how you are looking at the process of observation and giving feedback, and especially this idea that the observer’s role is watching and describing (and thus helping the teacher see ‘the unseen’ perhaps, or see the same situation from a different angle. I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of ‘hot’ feedback (immediately after the lesson) and ‘cold’ one, which happens on the following day, for example. I think providing a (written?) description only on the day when the lesson was observed and leaving the remaining part of the cycle for later is a good option (especially if we speak about professional development program within an organization, not on an intensive training course)

          The whole idea of making the process of observation and feedback a less threatening (and even enjoyable!) process welcomed by teachers has been something I personally think about a lot. The ELC definitely helps (my ‘tried and tested’ approach) and this means that it needs to be familiar to both observers and those who come to watch a class, both peers and supervisors. In that case it is less about evaluation, or Oscar Ceremony, and more about professional development and student learning… (am I now falling in a trap of stating the obvious?)

          I also liked the question Hana asked at the end of her comment: How could the students become part of the ELC? – In fact I have never tried working with ELC in class, mostly because I have not had a clear purpose why I would like to do that (to help students develop their reflective skills, or critical thinking skills, or help them give constructive feedback to each other, or to me as their teacher?) I think it could be a good discussion topic for us as teachers and teacher trainers! Thank you for raising this question here!


      • Josette says:

        This is where you wrote about this before David http://itdi.pro/blog/2013/11/22/the-observation-issue-josette-leblanc/ 🙂

        I agree with all of you, and I think this is the power of description. It provides space. My intention isn’t to plug my iTDi posts, but they do save me from typing up my ideas again http://itdi.pro/blog/2013/06/17/learning-to-see-josette/ And as Zhenya alluded to, I think this relates to all parts of our life, not just teaching.


        • Josette says:

          In that post I was talking about the ELC without being explicit. 🙂


          • Zhenya says:

            Both are wonderful links to iTDi, Josette (and great comment by David) – thank you so much for adding them. I see (and feel happy!) that I have to ‘catch up’ on so many ideas you guys have already shared, so thank you for helping me with specific posts!


  2. Ron Bradley says:

    I would like to clarify from my point of view the issue of emotions.

    The observer may note that the teacher being observed raised his voice or frowned or said “such’n such” or contrary-wise “smiled”, but he would not say that the teacher got angry or was impatient,or delighted that…, as this would be interpretation of the outward behavior.

    However, the teacher’s own self reflection might very well say, “I got angry when Jose laughed at Marie for making a mistake, which moved me to kick Jose out of the class.” This would be an objective description, and I feel very important to include, because it would need to be addressed in all subsequent stages. In fact, this would be a very significant moment.

    The observer’s ELC for feedback purposes is necessarily in contrast to the teacher’s own observations.

    Now if we are talking about our feelings about the reflective process, yes, these could certainly color the outcome. So if as I observe the teacher I see the teacher kick Jose out of the class, I may very well have an emotional reaction–negative or positive–that could very well play into what I both write in my observation notes and how I address the issue in oral feedback.
    My favorite Emerson quote: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Ron

      Thank you for this comment: I think it did much more than clarifying the point about where the feelings and emotions ‘go’ in the cycle (at least to me) but also touched a great question about combining the teacher’s own reflection on the lesson (using the cycle) and the observer(s)’ perspective on the same moment and again using the cycle. I can’t agree more with this sentence: ‘The observer’s ELC for feedback purposes is necessarily in contrast to the teacher’s own observations.’

      I also like the quote you shared, and the idea that our feelings and emotions (might) color the outcome. For this reason I slightly prefer having the written reflective notes right after the lesson (so that by looking at them later in the day or on the following day we could see which moments seemed significant, and for which reason, and was this reason about our emotional state, or the student learning, or both)

      (and I also loved how Anne developed the idea of which words we are using to describe what we see)

      Thank you once again for reading and commenting!


  3. Thank you for such an interesting and enlightening post.
    One thing that I’ve been wondering about lately is whether how I describe a moment in class makes me look better than I might have otherwise. Using Ron’s example of kicking Jose out of class, I think I might decide that “kick out” is loaded language and say something more like “pointed at the door and told him to leave in a slightly raised voice.” This makes me sound a bit more calm than I may have been and the ELC gives me an excuse to do it this way. (I know that a couple weeks ago I argued on the side or removing emotion from description, but I’m trying to understand the other side as well.)
    I love your question: “Where else can ELC be used?” That is a topic I want to explore myself.
    I also love Hana’s comment about using ELC in observations. I’ve had the experience receiving feedback in both ELC and non-ELC ways and I have to agree that the ELC way is less threatening and ego-bruising (and less likely to cause defensiveness that leads to everything else being heard in ways different from how it’s intended).


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Anne

      Thank you for reading and developing the idea about ‘inserting’ the feelings and emotions into the Cycle more. You raised this great question: ‘whether how I describe a moment in class makes me look better than I might have otherwise’ I would even continue it and ask myself whether I can look worse than I might have been in class by choosing the words for my description? In any case, seems like the vocabulary and tone of description can determine how we ‘look’ to ourselves in that moment. I wonder if (and how?) the objectivity and honesty can be developed for the purposes of seeing everything more clearly. Isn’t it the same with scales and mirrors though: sometimes people see the reflection or the figure on the scales and … convince themselves that nothing is wrong, or worrying, etc. (the opposite can also be true)

      You mentioned something I really agree with about the ELC way for feedback being ‘less threatening and ego-bruising’. I am a strong believer in this. Thinking of the reasons why the Cycle can ‘soften’ the feedback, even less pleasant one: could it be because we are aiming more at the moment of the lesson and less at the teacher’s actions and ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ (just can’t start with those if we are describing but not ‘judging’!)

      As always, your comment made me think (and write 🙂 more! Thank you!


  4. Hi Zhenya, thanks for sharing these questions and answers. It’s really helping me to understand the ELC, which up until very recently I didn’t really know all that much about.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi David,
      Thank you for reading and sharing, I am so happy to hear your feedback. Writing this blog post helped me realize some answers too (and having supportive reflective readers helps even more!)
      Looking forward to reading your posts.


      • Micaela Carey (Spain) says:

        Hi Zhenya,

        I agree with David. I began hearing about the ELC recently and your posts are helping to clarify for me what it is and how it works. It seems to me that the ELC has similarities to mindfulness, which I’ve practiced for a couple years now and really enjoy. I’ve also been thinking recently about how to use mindfulness in the classroom. I think that in some ways I already do.

        Thanks again for your informative and insightful posts. Looking forward to reading more about the ELC.


      • Zhenya says:

        Hi Micaela

        Thank you for visiting and commenting! I do agree that ELC has a lot to do with being mindful (to ourselves as teachers and to our students, or course participants) and paying this attention can change a lot in the way we see a lesson, and how we choose a moment to reflect, and how we describe what happened. Now that you wrote this I think I started to understand the Cycle a little deeper.

        Thank you for sharing, and looking forward to new posts on your Ready, Steady, Go! blog 🙂


  5. Josette says:

    Dear Zhenya,

    First of all, love the gingko ELC! Very creative and I must ask, are those from Korea? Part of the joy of reading your posts is looking at the pictures you choose.

    Secondly, thank you for linking my post on NVC and the ELC. 🙂 This relates to what I’m going to mention below.

    Since these days I’m writing more about the interior life and how it relates to teaching, the question I’m going to choose to explore is, “Can we only reflect about the moments in the classroom? (where else can the ELC be used?)” I’m sure that you can guess that I would say a resounding, yes. Since I make such close links between the NVC way of communicating and the ELC, it is very easy for me to see how the ELC could work in all facets of life. In fact, I have used it in personal explorations, especially when I was dealing with challenges. It is still very hard for me to use NVC in the moment, especially in charged situations, but when I am ready, or when I have space, it has helped me connect with others and myself in ways that my non-nvc/ELC style may not have. I’m curious to know if you’ve had similar experiences.

    You wrote, “This is perhaps a tool to have a mindful and purposeful life.” I think you are absolutely right. In mindfulness meditation practice, teachers will encourage you to simply observe what is arising as you sit. For example, if you start thinking of a fight you had last night and you are getting angry, the teacher would advise you to name the feeling, or to name the thought. You might say to yourself, “anger.” or “thinking”. This is the same as ELC description.

    Always a pleasure to have the chance to engage in your posts Zhenya. Thank you!


    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Josette

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts (both with me and the other reflective readers) and for noticing the gingko leaves (you are right, they come from Korea, or at this point from my notebook being kept there since last summer 🙂

      I was also excited to see your ‘resounding Yes!’ for using the ELC in life outside our classrooms. You asked if I have ever experienced to deal with challenges using the cycle. I did actually, and like you I like to use it reflecting on interactions in my life ‘when I am ready, or when I have space’. I try to consciously find the reasons for the feelings I have (or feel) and then think about the description of what actually happened. A fun way to find out how different those could be!

      You said (about the ELC): it has helped me connect with others and myself – I totally agree. You wrote about it so deeply in the recent post about Self-Empathy and Self-Compassion, and I have been enjoying the comments your readers leave. A lot to learn in this life, and teaching is just a small part of it!

      Thank you for being in touch and sharing the light from your heart, Josette.


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