Questions about Running Feedback Sessions

by Zhenya

Introduction

I recently worked on an intensive two-week course for teacher trainers. 33 teachers from Lebanon were learning (about) trainer skills, qualities and thinking. Each of them in turns experienced leading one group feedback session with a group of peers. After two or three lessons followed by a feedback sessions we (trainers of trainers) were facilitating reflection on a so-called ‘feedback on feedback’ session where we reflected on the process, content, strengths, challenges, solutions, doubts, questions, and many more exciting things related to the art of giving and receiving feedback.

The post below is based on one of the last ‘feedback on feedback’ sessions where each participant (trainer being trained) received one question card and had to ask two other peers (ideally, with different points of view) about their own answers. During the session, we never had time to discuss the results in-depth, so I hope that this post below might become some sort of ‘summary’ or wrap up for that session. (some of my course participants might be reading this post, which I am excited about!)

I am sharing the questions below, adding some context and/or background to explain why the question was there, and then writing some of my own answers/thoughts, etc.

IMG_0100

  1. Side conversations during a feedback session: do they need to be managed? If yes, how? If not, why not?

Background/context: in a group of 6+ participants, it is sometimes hard to keep everyone’s attention on the people who are talking. Sometimes peers start to talk (in whispers). Sometimes it is about the subject of the discussion. Sometimes it is L1, or English (or L3!)

Zhenya’s thoughts: I am still trying to formulate my belief about this. On the one hand, I like quiet working atmosphere, especially at the time when a peer is sharing their important learning after teaching. My idea scenario would be a group of people who are listening quietly and making notes (to ask questions later) On the other hand, our world is not ideal and there are often questions or ideas that are ‘burning’ and need to be shared. It also depends on the culture I am in a lot. How can the ‘ideal’ be ‘merged’ with reality? Still thinking…

  1. ‘What if’ [statements] as a way to give feedback: advantages and disadvantages for participant learning.

Background/context: I heard sentences like this on that day ‘What if you had 30 students, not 6 — the instructions would have to be very different’ ‘ What if your students were of different age…’.

Zhenya’s thoughts: I strongly believe in feedback on the lesson everyone saw, with the number and age of students we actually had. I don’t think ‘what if’ can help much, especially the teacher who gave the lesson and is expecting to learn from everyone’s feedback. I heard a nice differentiation between the two kinds of sessions: a feedback on the lesson taught, and a discussion on teaching (in general). If there is time for both — wonderful. If there is only one thing to choose, then it would be feedback/reflection to me.

  1. ‘You did not do ________’ or ‘You could have done ________‘ . Which stage of the Experiential Learning Cycle is it (if any)? How might feedback starting with these help/hinder participant learning?

Background/context: During the course we (trainers and participants) practiced giving feedback to each other using the ELC, which means starting with a clear and as objective as possible description of what happened in the moment you think is/was crucial for student learning. This detailed description is followed by analysis of possible multiple reasons why the moment might have been (less) helpful for the student learning on that day, by generalizations/conclusions based on this learning. The final step of the cycle is formulating clear action plan based on the point discussed. It took me 3 minutes to type this, but it sometimes takes years to fully grasp the technique.

Zhenya’s thoughts: If you believe in the power of the ELC for giving and receiving feedback as much as I do, you will easily guess that starting your reflection with the words ‘You did not do ________’ or ‘You could have done ________’ is not description, but mostly analysis. It might even be a ‘hidden’ generalization’ or belief I would like to impose on you (when I say you did not do something, I believe you should have done it, because it helps learning). The form of such feedback might be not the most helpful for the teacher, as it comes from the speaker’s belief, not from the observed lesson or observed student behavior or reaction.

  1. How might trainer contributions (ideas, opinions, suggestions, etc.) help/hinder participant learning?

Background/context: it is a question about whether or not a trainer needs/has to add their own opinion about the lesson seen. I am aware that there are training courses where it is an absolute must, and trainer needs to grade the observed lesson according to stated criteria. The course I am training on is more open to teacher’s own beliefs and ideas, and is based on the idea of individual learning pace and specific context of the culture where the course is taught.

Zhenya’s thoughts: based on the description above, one can already guess my idea (no insisting on ‘the’ right answer and not imposing my opinion on a teacher) I must add, however, that a participant still receives my detailed written notes on the lesson plan and observation notes on everything happened in class. The question above is mainly about sharing or not during the group feedback session on a lesson.

  1. How can a trainer find out what a participant would like to receive feedback on?

Zhenya’s answer: by talking with the teacher before the lesson, or by reading his/her action points in the written lesson plan, or even by asking during the feedback session. This might also help with the decision/answer to the previous question above!

  1. What are some (possible) advantages and disadvantages of letting a participant finish a (much) longer lesson during a training course?

Background/context: there is a ‘fixed’ number of minutes during a training course (for example, each of the 3 participants have 40 minutes to deliver their part of the lesson). Having one lesson 5 minutes longer, for example, means that the other two teachers have less time. The question is about the decision trainer needs to make about the teacher whose lesson is clearly in progress well after the end of those xx minutes.

Zhenya’s thoughts: Letting the teacher finish might bring a useful discussion about the realistic planning, setting clear objectives, respect and cooperation in the team, etc. Stopping the teacher might help him/her see the importance of timing for the whole group, and might help the other teachers feel better. I don’t think I have a clear answer to myself. No recipe yet — much depends on a culture, on personality, even on students!

  1. If a lesson on a training course was longer than the time allotted, what might it tell us about the learning objective of the lesson?

Background/context: similar to (6) above

Zhenya’s thoughts: most likely, the objectives was not realistic for the students to achieve in this time slot. There also might be challenges less anticipated (such as the number of students, attendance, new students in the group, etc.) – which will now help the whole group to plan better for the future! 🙂

  1. Who are participants talking to during a feedback session: the trainer, the teacher who taught, everyone in the group? How might the choice impact participant learning?

Zhenya’s answer: in the ideal situation, I would prefer to have a friendly group discussion where people are addressing their feedback to the teacher who taught the lesson (i.e. receiving feedback) and not reporting to the trainer. It works for me for several reasons: it is less a conversation about ‘what is right or wrong’ but more about ‘what I saw in class’ and often becomes softer, kinder, and more relaxed. I find the situation where participants ‘report’ to the trainer in front of the teacher less comfortable for me (perhaps even more so for the teacher?)

IMG_0099

  1. How might asking each and every participant in the group about a moment that was successful/less successful help/hinder (a) the teacher learning, (b) the group learning and ( c) the focus of feedback?

Zhenya’s thoughts: letting everyone participate in the feedback session makes a lot of sense (otherwise, why are we doing it in a group?) On the other hand, making everyone speak and pushing an answer even if a person is clearly not ready might not make it the most productive time for a group. There are natural ‘talkers’ and those who need a gently invitation to speak (‘in the next round, let those who kept silent contribute’ is something I might say)

  1. How can Trainer prioritize the focus during the feedback session to help the teacher and the group learn?

Background/context: there is often to talk about during a feedback session; the notes written are very detailed and often take more than 2 full pages of text. The notes of the observers are also very detailed. The more experienced the teachers are (and the closer it is to the end of the course) the more they notice and are eager to talk about) How can we prioritize?

Zhenya’s answer: the key for me is what the teacher wants to start with, and what his/her questions would be. I might have written miles of text, but if the specific question focuses on the concrete 5 minutes of the lesson, let’s talk about them! After all the notes will be shared with the teacher after the feedback session.

  1. Leadership and/or Authority during a feedback session: Teacher? Trainer? Peers? None of these? Why?

Zhenya’s answer: the part about ‘leading’ or ‘running’ a feedback session indicates that there is a ‘leader’ (or trainer) in the room. On the other hand, working with experienced teachers often means that the trainer can’t become a pure ‘authority’ in the room knowing all the ‘right’ answers. Managing who is talking, making sure everyone is on time (as a group), leaving enough time for each teacher who taught on that day — those are some of the things I am doing during a session. Some, but not all…

What other questions are you asking yourself about giving and receiving feedback? What answers above do you disagree with (or have a slightly different perspective to add)? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments — or perhaps on your blog?

Further reading

Larry Porter’s article is one of my favorite on this subject Giving and Receiving Feedback: it will never be easy, but it can get better

The Key to Giving and Receiving Negative Feedback from Harvard Business Review’s blog is another good read I recently found.