ELC: Questions and Answers

by Zhenya

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 errors’ 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 postThe 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! That didn’t go very well!) when we describe the moment we want to do so without the feelings interfering with our description’.


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!