Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?

How do you respond to your students, and how do you connect what you say to what your students need? This is what Tana Ebaugh and I were exploring on Saturday during our workshop for Daegu-Gyeongbuk KOTESOL. The title is, What Teachers Say: What Students Hear: What We Can Change (click title for the abstract).

Having done this workshop last May at the National KOTESOL Conference, and having responded to the feedback we received from those participants, we were able to fine tune our workshop to create an even richer experience. And from this new experience our participants helped us learn how to make it even better the next time around.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me...or could they?

During this workshop, we asked the participants — all EFL teachers — to take on the role of students in an English class working on a gap-fill activity. We gave each participant a unique role card. If they had a green card, they were a high level student; yellow was intermediate; and red was low level. Along with their designated ability was a personal back story. For example, with 5 minutes left for the activity, the intermediate student was 65% done but couldn’t stop thinking about his sick mom at home; the high level student was 100% finished and eager to get out of class; and the low level student was barely done but didn’t care about finishing because she never does well in English class anyway.

Workshop participants take on the role of EFL students. Can you spot the student who feels bored and the one who perhaps feels frustrated?

Once they got into their roles, Tana took on the role of the teacher and began the task of monitoring her students. As she walked around, she would comment on students by saying things such as,

“Try harder.”

“Good job! That’s excellent!”

“Come on. You can do better than that.”

Just as a side note, these are expressions we took from a teacher’s manual created by a provincial education department. It is meant to be used as a teaching aid by Korean English teachers.

The participants were supposed to note how they felt when Tana commented on their work, and also how they felt when they heard a comment she made to fellow students.

Tana comments on student performance

What we discovered was that students had a wide range of emotional reactions to what they heard, and for the most part, the feelings were not positive. The feelings the participants often reported back were “frustrated”, “bored”, “nervous”, and “jealous”.

The teacher’s comments did opposite of what she intended. She was hoping to encourage her students, but the reality was she pushed them further away from the task. Instead of fostering an environment of learning, she was creating an environment focused on her judgments.

The participants’ awareness now raised, we went into a discussion of how we can avoid this kind of ineffective classroom situation, and instead become more compassionate, empathetic teachers. We suggested the concept active listening; asking yourself “why?” a student may be behaving a certain way so that you may address the student’s deeper need; and also making observations specific to the student and the task. This was a new segment of our presentation, and something we plan to expand on in future workshops thanks to the feedback we got from our participants.

watching over the student/teacher role play

Without requesting this feedback, we wouldn’t have known that our participants would like to spend more time on strategies for being a more compassionate teacher. Without this feedback, we wouldn’t have known that some attendees wanted to know how to deal with co-teachers who use a “love stick“. We also may not have known how to address the language gap between native-English speaking teachers and low level students.

Now we know that we should address these wishes in future workshops. Tana and I are excited about this new prospect and look forward to seeing where our newly revamped workshop will take us.

How and why do you incorporate feedback in your presentations, workshops or classes? Do you think feedback is a helpful reflective tool?

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14 thoughts on “Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?

  1. Love the questions!

    I really wish I could attend and really attend to a version of this workshop someday.
    (I was sort of tied up last time which was your first time and while I was in the room I couldn’t really focus)

    I have just come to realize that I didn’t collect as much feedback as I would have liked or thought I would with a particular class this fall. I don’t really know how it happened but I just kept pushing it back and back and here I am at the end of the term.

    My first curiosity when I saw this post a while back was to wonder why more workshoppers/presenters don’t collect FB (at the end, middle or even start) I have been to plenty of workshops but I don’t think it is has been a big part of many of them.’ Interesting. My speculation is that many people (like me as well) consider workshops to be a once off. Surely though, with that said, insights and reflections on one workshop can be helpful for later ones.

    The role of FB in reflective practice is something I have been grappling with for a few months now. This started when FB was named as one of the main ways to do reflective practice. I found myself confused and curious about the mental process that people go through when reflecting on feedback.

    I most certainly don’t mean to be antagonistic but….

    I find it interesting that you write that you now you know that you “should” address certain issues. Perhaps this was just an issue for the specific group of humans that were there that day. I sincerely wonder how you know that this is a topic that should be included in future incarnations of the workshop. Could you tell us (if possible and if you want to) about how this decision came to pass?
    Sorry for the belated comments
    Confused in Corea

    1. Confused in Corea,

      No worries regarding belated comments. Your comments are always welcome, late or otherwise.

      I resonate with your sentiment, “The role of FB in reflective practice is something I have been grappling with for a few months now. This started when FB was named as one of the main ways to do reflective practice. I found myself confused and curious about the mental process that people go through when reflecting on feedback.” There is no doubt that when we receive feedback, emotions swell up. I think this is where the mental process begins. The reason we are ever in a feedback situation is because we have done something based on evaluation from an outside source, or based on our personal desire to learn from ourselves. In each case, I believe we are quite vulnerable.

      As we have talked about before, the first thing some teacher trainers do during a feedback session with participants — after having observed them teach a lesson — is ask them how they feel. By giving them time to attend to their feelings, and also to let them know that we hear their emotions, then the feedback session may go smoother. There may be less likelihood for taking a point personally or the wrong way. The listening of feelings acts as a buffer zone of sorts.

      But all this is to say that when we receive feedback, because we are vulnerable, we may really take it to heart. We hear it, and it stays with us. So in this sense, feedback triggers reflection. If you say something about my performance, and especially if I value your perspective, then your feedback will keep spinning in my mind. However, if I am not equipped to deal with this feedback in a constructive manner, then the feedback risks getting lost on emotion.

      For me, this is where the power of the experiential learning cycle begins. If I can hear your feedback and spin it through the cycle, then I think I can grow. However, if I just remain in a state of “you know better” or “who do you think you are?”, then I’m not sure real growth happens. I worry that this is what happens in most feedback situations.

      I think feedback is the starting point of reflective practice. I hear (feel) what you have to say, and now it’s time for me to make my own observations, interpretations, and changes for the future. In my experience, this is part of the mental process people go through when reflecting on feedback, or perhaps it is the process they “should” go through.

      Now for the next topic in your comment, “I sincerely wonder how you know that this is a topic that “should” be included in future incarnations of the workshop. Could you tell us (if possible and if you want to) about how this decision came to pass?” I’m not sure if “should” was the correct modal. I felt no pressure to make these changes. After receiving this feedback, it felt like a light went off. The feedback triggered an emotion of curiosity and clarity, and by reflecting on those emotions, we realized that these were topics that could really add more depth and value to our presentation. If this is what people are wondering, and needing — and it resonates with our beliefs — then why not support that? So if I could edit that “should” I would change it to “Now we know that we want to address these wishes in future workshops.”

      I look forward to more thought provoking comments…and feedback :)

  2. This is so timely. I’m planning a conversation in my head right now, one I have to have with a student who is a thorn in my side. I know he’s going through some difficult things. He’s also immature, prone to blaming others for his problems, and occasionally mildly disruptive. I can’t decide how to approach him, and what “empathetic” will mean in his situation (I have tried patience, asking how he’s doing, etc. to no avail.) I’m going to think about your techniques and ask myself what I were need if I got a card with his name on it. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I was happy to read that our presentation could be of some help to you. Being empathic is not an easy task when we are trying to do our job. It definitely takes practice. How did the talk go anyway? I’m interested I knowing how your card played out :)

      1. I decided to set boundaries, and to ignore his tendency to sulk and ask for special treatment. He was asking to not be penalized for lateness on his latest assignments because he is “not good with computers” and had submitted the wrong file. I told him that he and one other person would be given a reduced penalty because they had caught their mistake in the morning and resubmitted (assuming that this is what he did, and not that he just took some extra time), but that the small penalty would stand, because learning how to submit these assignments correctly online is part of the overall task. He didn’t like this answer, but he didn’t argue. I expect I am in for more of the same, but I think that the kindest thing I can do for him right now is to be firm, because if he continues to approach life the way he is doing, he’s going to cause himself a lot of problems. Empathy doesn’t always (or even often) equal leniency, I find!

  3. I really loved this workshop Josette. It made me reevaluate my classroom behaviour and I’m excited to go into my lessons today with a bti more self-awareness. Thanks for all the good ideas.

    1. Thank you so much for the feedback Anne! I’m happy to hear that it was useful for you. I’m happy you stopped by because now I know about your blog too. It’s a fun read!

  4. Oh, I know it is helpful, but would love to know how to use it to its greatest effect.
    One social studies class, in particular, comes to mind. I had about 15 students, one of whom did not agree with me politically, and began convincing the other students that I was wrong on many counts. Our textbook was highly praised and I never deviated from it even once, because I sensed my precarious position with them. Some of the students used body language, non-participation, and other distractions, to show their obvious disdain and I kept hoping they would come around. Unknown to me, they were instead going to my principal with bogus complaints. Oh, it was a nightmare.
    I tried to listen to their desires, even skipped half a chapter because they found it offensive, but it seemed the more I gave, the more they wanted, as long as it was non-productive. These were adult students, by the way, about half of them educators, themselves.
    Eventually they were able to get the class terminated, but I still wonder what I might have done better, what clues I might have incorporated into my lesson plans. Mostly I was just glad when it was over.
    I have taught that same book on many occasions, with great success. And three of the students did stay on speaking terms with me, and we continued the study on our own time, which was very validating to me, and actually quite fun over lunch dates.
    It was all so shocking, so bizarre. I wonder if it was just one of those things we all must endure once in a lifetime, or something. I did quit that teaching situation because of lack of backing higher up, although they did want me to stay. My husband and my daughter said NO WAY!

    1. Katharine thank you so much for the rich description of the dilemma you faced with your students. Sometimes it’s hard for us to connect with our students for whatever reason. It makes me think of my past taekwondo students who could have cared less about learning English. It was hard for me to support their need for sleep and choice when I had a job to do. In these cases I guess we do our best. But as I read your comment I kept asking myself, “how did she show her students that she understood where they were coming from? How did she help them explore why they believed what they did? Could giving them the floor to debate their perspective have given them the platform they seemed to desire, and in the end help them learn the material anyway?” of course, I wasn’t there and can’t pretend to know if my suggestions are sound. It seems like you faced a very difficult situation and in such cases it may be healthier to protect ourselves. Once all options are exhausted, it’s time to move on. Thank as always for your input Katharine.

  5. So wonderful to see you two working together, on such worthy causes. :-) I miss our think-tank discussions. Keep it up, guys!

    1. Thank you for the words of encouragement Kulsoom! When we were prepping the night before we definitely thought of our sessions. Man did we ever dig deep. So grateful to have shared all that learning with all of you. Miss you!

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