Online Presenting about Reflection: Questions

How are you doing? How is the eleventh month of 2021 ending for you? 

I noticed how little writing I was doing here in the past few months, and wanted to be back before the calendar year is over. It is a post of how the practice of reflection has been with me this past year, and how I am learning from talking and writing about this skill, and hoping to learn more. So…

In 2021, I had 3 chances to present/talk about the skills of practicing reflection on teaching, and if you have been reading this blog, you have most likely seen my posts about them (and/or slides, and/or recordings). Session 1 was about the Attitude to Reflection (see the post/slides/recording here), Session 2 was mainly about the Skill/Practice of Reflection (see my slides here), and Session 3 touched bits of theory (Knowledge) of various models and approaches to Reflection (a post/slides/links can be found here). 

There was later a post about the Reflective Practice Group Global I am a happy member of, with lists of topics we have talked about so far (if you are interested, here is the link). 

Then between August and November I had a break from ELT professional development events. A big reason or excuse for that was a curriculum design project I was involved in, but if I can be completely honest with you I have been going through some sort of professional crisis, or puzzle. The main questions I have been thinking about were about remote teaching and training, and what makes ‘input’ effective and helpful and relevant to teachers. I must say that I had not been 100% happy with any of the sessions I tried delivering online, and even though they were each in a different format/genre, and I can see the benefits in each of them, I am not sure I have a preferred way of ‘presenting’ online. 

A couple of examples: 

Session 1 was a talk in a Zoom webinar platform (in other words, not a meeting space with breakout rooms, etc.). There were about 300 participants in the session, and I could follow what is going on in the chat most of the time, when it was not too fast for me to keep reading and addressing the points. I could have used a Poll feature, which I had prepared and chose not to use, for the reasons I can’t remember now. 

Session 2 was in a regular Zoom meeting space, with a very friendly audience and co-hosts, and about 10 attendees, if I recall correctly. Unfortunately, my Zoom ‘froze’ for the start of the session and I had to improvise a bit before my slides were back, and then used the precious Breakout Room time to re-start everything on my device and to be back on time for the wrap up. A big lesson to me to never, never ignore an update suggested by Zoom, and lots of gratitude to the attendees for the patience and support during the session, and the feedback afterwards. I did manage to create a short ‘compressed’ 12-minute recording of my talk and be surprised how brief I could be in a more ‘asynchronous’ way of delivering it. 

Session 3 was my first Facebook Live experience (broadcast from a Zoom room and watched ‘live’ by about 5-6 people). It felt like a conversation, and it was a conversation with a wonderful fellow educator Teresa Bestwick, which was recorded and kept in the group. I remember that I failed to clearly answer one of the questions from the audience (about Farrell’s model and the difference between his Philosophy and Principles). Isn’t it interesting how this is a bright memory from the session? Hm, what does it tell you about my strong belief to ‘focus on the positive’ and ‘the strength approach’ for teachers’ feedback? 

Preparing the sessions was a creative process, and I even started drafting an outline of a short course about the practice of reflective practice. In the Reflective Group Global we mentioned a possible ‘Reflection Day’ where practicing teachers or trainers can share what and how they bring reflection to their professional activities, and I shared a dream version of a whole trainer conference on the subject with the international SIT training community leaders (which may actually happen in 2022!). And then… my inspiration disappeared. I have not done more reading, or developed any more sessions on the subject since July this year. The reasons for this may or may not be a separate blog post. 

My small puzzle now is a 90-minute online workshop for teachers (mixed audience, mixed English level, mostly primary school students they are working with). The working title is The Joys and Rigors of Reflective Teaching Practice, and my session description promises this: 

When we learn any new skill, we improve that skill by thinking about what worked and didn’t work. In the case of teaching, it’s about the learner. Each time we try a new activity or approach, we think about how we can improve it. We ask ourselves: Did it work for the learner(s)? How do we know? What exactly happened in the lesson? Why did it go this way? What lessons may be taken out of this experience? What will I do in the future, based on this learning? 
In this workshop, participants will go through the process of reflecting on a moment in their own teaching by describing that moment, analyzing it from a student-learning perspective, developing hypotheses about effective teaching, and developing a plan for future action that is observable, measurable, realistic, and attainable.

I am not sure I have a specific idea about staging the session. Most importantly though, I am not convinced that any kind of ‘live’ input can be helpful or efficient with this kind of topic, largely because there is a danger of making it too simplistic/primitive so that people could ‘grasp the concept’ of a reflective model, and if we take the most basic one, it would be the method of ‘trial and error’, or another sort of simple reflective cycle. It may look cool on a slide, and may ‘feel’ very clear, practical and do-able, but leave no chances to actually implement it and get feedback (or in other words, apply and learn, and re-apply). All in all, it may be another ELT acronym, and another cool term to ‘learn’ and never get back to. 

Ideally, I would NOT run such a session ‘live’ without a quality pre-session task/time. ‘Flipping’ the content would be the best idea, in my opinion, when teachers have a chance to sit down and go through some reading about the concept and model of reflection, and maybe even take a small piece of their recent lesson and bring it through a reflective cycle. Then, at the actual session, we could all take a look at a ‘case’ (example) from someone’s class, and ‘dig deeper’ considering various alternatives for the same course of action, or other options, and would also talk about the teaching and learning beliefs that bring us to those ideas. A final stage would be participants reflecting on a recent lesson that was a big puzzle for them, and help each other to ‘see the unseen’ and uncover more possibilities for learning. 

Questions: what are other options for online sessions/presentations I am not seeing? What have you attended or tried out yourself that worked? Why do you think it worked? What or who do you recommend reading on the subject? Finally, if you attended any or all the summer sessions, what advice would you offer about online presenting? I promise a grateful response for your input, and a very careful consideration of your ideas. As you know, I don’t have a constant team to work with, but I need one 🙂

Thank you for reading!


About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
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8 Responses to Online Presenting about Reflection: Questions

  1. judiehudson says:

    Great reflections Zhenya, thank you for your contribution. I can agree with your final paragraph about the flipped nature giving teachers more time & space to dig deeper with the group. This very much reflects my experience with Flipped CELTAs and the nub of what I was trying to impart during my short talk at the IH Conference recently. Strangely, although not surprisingly, I felt so flat after finishing the talk. I hope the participants were interested to try it, but to date, I haven’t had any feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. judiehudson says:

    BTW, the CETA Symposium is being held online this Saturday and Sunday, 4th and 5th December, 2021. I hope many of your readers can attend.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Judie
      Thank you for the comment and support! I would love to hear/read more about the Flipped Training approach and experience you are talking about! Is there a recording of that IH talk, by any chance? Or perhaps we could share more as a co-written blog post and keep this conversation going?
      At the moment I see ‘flipping’ more possible in a longer course (or at least a series of sessions) rather than a single one-off workshop to teachers. Which brings a bigger question about the way PD is offered/sold/promoted, etc.
      I am very, very excited to hear that the CETA Symposium is happening this weekend! I was sure I’d missed it this year. Is there a link to register? Hopefully, readers of this post would be able to join.
      Thank you for reading my blog, and it is always to be in touch! Hope things are going okay on your end.


  3. Mariam Bedraoui says:

    Thank you Zhenya for reassuring me: I am not the only one who feels that I could have done better at the end of an online session with teachers, or that I could not take the session to the that level of perceived learning on the part of participants and sensed achievement on my part! Performing online is indeed a different platform of action that needs new ways of design and delivery. It seems to me that these need more explicit theorizing and rigorous experimentation. My takeaway from your blog and from Judie’s response is the flipped training approach. I will give it a try!
    Drawing on one of what I could describe as a successful online session (but still with some reservations), I can share here two techniques. Last July, I participated in an online summer conference for ELT teachers in the Maghreb which was organised by the RELO office in the region. I had to conduct a workshop on interactive reading tasks. I had to make teachers see the need for changing reading comprehension questions with deeper meaning and language processing activities built on structured prediction. I had 40 minutes to do so. The challenge was that I needed to get teachers engaged in making predictions and sharing them before they read the target text. The first thing that helped was piloting. I conducted the same activity online with three teachers who volunteered to help. The piloting session helped me reformulate my questions, provide more support, reorder my slides, reset task time, and cut the number of prediction tasks. I decided that I would make teachers walk through one major structured prediction task, and offer written descriptions of the others for the attendees who would love to know more about them.The second thing that helped me gain a very useful sense of control since the beginning of the session was a very intriguing reading task that functioned both as an icebreaker and as a need creation tool. I asked the attendees to read a nonsense passage full of imagined words and to answer four WH. Questions. To their surprise, they all had the same answers despite having no idea what the text was about. This activity brought us all to question the utility of reading comprehension questions and seemed to arouse the attendees curiousity to know about the alternatives.
    This activity seemed to have a magical impact on the attendees who showed considerable collaboration throughout the session. So If I am to sum it up, it might be ‘provide a potential hook’.
    I will conduct the same workshop next week but for an audience that I know and I will have more time to present other prediction tasks. I will test if the same conclusions stand right!
    Thank you Zhenya for inciting me to reflect and share this experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Mariam

      Wow. WOW! Thank you very much for reading my post and responding to my cry for help (or for feedback, or both!).

      I think I am still figuring out how a training session, for example, is different from a talk at a conference/event, when the audience is mixed, as well as the needs and expectations, etc. On the other hand, this is possibly true for any course we are running (except that a f2f event has multiple options to collect feedback, e.g. on a break, over a coffee, etc., whereas an online session is just ‘done’ and everyone leaves…)

      Thank you for sharing the detailed example of your successful online session​! ​Wow, 40 minutes is certainly a challenge for a topic like yours, and I am reminded about the ‘pilot’ time, or session test drive, to see how long things take, and what needs to be modified before the real launch. The other big reminder/’A-ha’ for me is offering a small ‘hook’ or a bit of surprise so that the attention and engagement were high for the main tasks of the session. Reading the lines in your comment I recalled a book by Tania Luna and Lee Ann Renninger I had been meaning to read but forgot about. It is called Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected and it is not (but can be!) about teaching or training. Here is Tania’s 5-minute ​Tedx Talk about Surprisology​ which gives an idea what it is about. ​

      By the way, here is the recording of Judie’s talk about Flipping CELTA:

      So good to hear from you, and to be connected here. Good luck with your workshop next week!

      P.S. I had to search for ‘Maghreb’ and realize that I only heard ‘Levant’ before. I am curious about the two names, and would like to learn more about them.


      • Mariam Bedraoui says:

        So good to hear from you too, Zhenya, and many thanks for the links you shared! Yes, I can’t agree more on how these webinars are really particular. Judie’s remark that she felt somehow flat after giving her last talk made me remember similar feelings I experience after I am done with an online talk or presentation. May be because there is little clue coming from the audience about how we did, as you said over a coffee, on the break, from a smile, a look, a one-to-one chat, or may be from the chemistry coming out of all of these! It seems that there is more to f2f interaction than what we think.
        Tania’s talk was so much intriguing and resonates very much with two memories of highly interactive learning sessions: the first was when students had to step into a classroom lit by candles, and the second when another group of learners found small cards addressed to them on their desks. These two surprises seemed to spark the learners’ enthusiasm and to take lead of the whole sessions! I have an urgent question on my mind: how ‘to insert surprise’ into my onsite and online meetings/workshops, and how to design surprise ideas?
        Judie’s was very interesting. I stopped long with her reflection on how we need to help learners climb small steps. The image she used (of a closely stepped ladder vs a widely stepped one) on the slide captures the idea very well!
        Many thanks to Judie for sharing the link to Eric Mazur! I am trying to find some time to hear ‘The Confessions of a Converted Lecturer’. This sounds a great talk, doesn’t it?
        Thank you again Zhenya for setting off this thread of conversation! It is always a great pleasure to reflect with you!

        Looking forward to your next post.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Zhenya says:

          Love this conversation Mariam!

          Your examples of surprises are beautiful (make me long for an actual classroom). And the questions you are asking are wonderful: how (can we learn or plan) ‘to insert surprise’ into my onsite and online meetings/workshops, and how to design surprise ideas?’ There is so much freedom and mystery in the idea that a surprise’ experience can be engineered. I should definitely read the book, and then maybe get back with another blog post 🙂

          I saw that there is a shorter/abridged version of the ‘The Confessions of a Converted Lecturer’ (about 18 mins or so, planning to watch it soon).

          Have a good new week (it is snowing beautifully here in Lviv!)


  4. Pingback: Slides for a Session (or a Lesson) | Wednesday Seminars

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