Feedback in the hallway

During the three years that I’ve taught in this teacher training program, I’ve managed to find a comfortable balance between the two roles I play: teaching Korean English teachers how to improve their writing skills, and also teaching them how to teach writing.  Although this division may seem clearly defined, the teacher-trainees have different needs compared to their students, so making space for these two contexts has always been something I’ve been conscious about.

However, my level of consciousness seems to have shifted this semester. Due to my position in the pecking order, I’ve become the lead trainer/teacher (the previous lead trainer moved back to England), which means I have new responsibilities and courses to teach.

Today I realized how much this has put me off balance.

The Scene

In the hallway between classes:

“Josette, I feel like a mess and I’m depressed. I’m really not comfortable with this essay assignment due next week. I’ve never really seen an essay until this week and now I have to write my own by next Thursday. When you asked us to write a paragraph last session, you taught us step by step so I felt like I could do it, even though I still thought it was challenging. But now I don’t really understand the different elements in an essay and I need to write one so fast. My ideas don’t feel organized. “

The realization

In my head:

“Wow, ___ ‘s right. Could she/he have said that more clearly? That’s amazing feedback. I usually take them through each part (introduction, body, conclusion) much sooner than this. I usually spend a whole class on just one of these parts! I also usually ask them to read a few essays so they can get comfortable with the format. This time I just showed them one essay. Then in the second class I introduced all the parts of an essay and said “write.” Barely any support.* What was I thinking! This is so not cool. And I’m supposed to be a model for their own teaching? Man.

The interpretation

  • Maybe I did this because during next session (starting in one week) I won’t be teaching my usual writing methods class, so I tried to compensate for that loss of hours by combining that syllabus to this session. This took away some of my usual essay intro/teaching time.
  • Maybe I read their abilities wrong.
  • I haven’t asked for my usual feedback so I really don’t know how they feel about my course so far.
  •  Maybe I took into account the feedback I got from last semester’s participants when some said the course was “too slow”.
  • Maybe I just thought that was enough exposure for them to be able to write an essay.
  • Maybe this person is the only one who feels this way.
  • Maybe I’m super tired and have been spending too much time staying in the office writing observation feedback and feedback on other writing assignments. I’m not giving myself space to plan and reflect as usual.

More possibilities? I’m sure.

Now what?

  • This participant and I have sent texts back and forth. We are going to work through this together. They will send me an email this weekend with what they’ve come up with and we’ll go from there.
  • I’ve written this post. I really needed the space to think about this interaction. Typing this description and interpretation has given the relief and distance I need to look forward.
  • I still need some time to think about how I approached all this and how I want to change things in the future.

All I know is that I am grateful for this moment in the hallway. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been so focused on tasks and projects beyond the classroom. I’ve also sensed that I was becoming complacent about my roles in class. I felt these things, but haven’t been doing anything about it. This little hallway feedback was just what I needed to start.

*I consciously avoided the term “scaffolding” thanks to the reflections in my first iTDi class with John Fanselow. :)

Note to self and whoever out their cares about such geeky things: This was the fastest blog post I’ve ever written: 30 minutes.

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Feedback in the hallway

  1. Josette,
    By the way, I thought I should mention the blog for the writing class. http://writingcu.wordpress.com. I have been trying to turn some of the posts into a forum where students can post their writing experiences into a Just a Peek community. The idea is to get feedback on their work from other EFLss all over the world. It’s been a year in the hatching, and very slow going. THe explanation can be found at http://writingcu.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/just-a-peek-writing-community/
    Ellen

    1. What wonderful comments to find in my inbox! Thank you so much Ellen. It is comforting to find someone out there with a similar role. I to look forward to learning from your experiences.

      And thank you for sharing your blog. What a super idea to provide a space where your students can get feedback from students from around the world. I’m curious, have you ever heard of ESL Learners Output Library ? My friends @JohnPfordresher and @AlexSWalsh started this collaborative space and I think you might connect to it considering the project you mentioned. I recommend following them on Twitter. If you have any questions or ideas, they would be happy to help.

      Happy to meet you Ellen! Happy holidays!

  2. Josette,
    In your post, the words “double role” jumped out at me. That is exactly what I am doing too, but in Mexico. I give an Advanced Writing course int he Language department as a complement or “icing on the cake” to a 9 semester program. In this program, although writing is ‘part and parcel’ of what teachers should be teaching, I find that hardly anyone goes past correcting grammar, vocabulary, or mechanical and punctuation errors.

    This semester my director asked me to add five more to the group of mostly university students from different fields of study who are all confronting a thesis. They have not had any thesis writing preparation, so here they are in a foreign language, learning what they need to do for their Spanish thesis. The five more “students” are actually the EFL teachers from a town in my state where there is a branch of out university…and that is where I feel divided.

    I began to realize that the anthology I had compiled for the uni students was painfully inadequate for the EFL teachers. I have come to the conclusion that the teachers need language, through reading. They live three hours away and are just developing their tech skills. Their writing skills are very low, yet they teach English.

    Therefore I needed to say that our goals change by the moment, as our students’ needs change, so must we change how and what we share with them.

    I have just followed you and hope to learn a lot from your experience. Thanks for taking the time to write the post, it was an eye opener.
    Ellen

  3. I can completely relate to the doubts you’ve been feeling. This third year I’ve been teaching academic writing in my current program, I somehow feel like things have been a bit off. I’m not so confident in their abilities to produce the essays they need to at this point.

    Is it my approach? Is it this cohort of students? Is it our dynamic isn’t great? Is it they don’t feel comfortable asking me questions? Is it because I teach only one section (two classes per week) compared to the two sections I taught last year? Am I too preoccupied with the new administrative role that takes up half my time now? Have I become too familiar with the material myself to put as much effort into scaffolding the material properly? Is it a fluke?

    Lots to reflect on over the Xmas holiday for me and regroup for next term.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and dropping all these fantastic questions Tyson. I’m sure that by even finding answers to half these questions you’ll come back next term feeling less off. I’d love to hear how your holiday reflection turned out. Please do try to drop by again. :) Happy holidays!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this here, Josette! I can imagine your frustration and maybe some sadness as you realized how much was left open in the gap between the expected outcome and the articulated task.

    I really needed to read this post write now. I have taught (and done!) so many different kinds of writing lately that I really feel the need for more clearly articulated goals and expectations across the board for each type of writing. So many people put forth “rules” which are actually much more like “guidelines,” and many of the guidelines only work for specific tasks and are frequently broken in common settings (like the rules for fragments and modifier placement). How frustrating that is for students! Also, so many instructions seem like they’re only instructions for a single task–there’s no clear connection to how those rules apply to future needs.

    I think I feel my own blog post coming on…

    1. As always Elizabeth, I am grateful for your empathy. There was definite sadness. Luckily I was able to meet with her/him the following Monday. He/She showed me a draft he/she had worked on that Sunday, and I think we were both pleasantly surprised. I will use non-observational language and say that she/he ended up doing a smashing job. :)

      I really connected to what you wrote here, “So many people put forth “rules” which are actually much more like “guidelines,” and many of the guidelines only work for specific tasks and are frequently broken in common settings (like the rules for fragments and modifier placement). How frustrating that is for students!” yes! How often have I said, “this is what some people want, but it isn’t always the case. This is a flexible rule.” I like how you clarified it by saying it’s a guideline. That doesn’t help the poor Korean English teacher who is trying to help her/his students pass a test. They just want a clear answer! Very frustrating for them I’m sure.

      I’m curious, did that blog post ever come forth? :) If so, please share it here my dear.

  5. Good reflection . Sometimes those comments come for various reasons but it is always good to reflect on comments made “in the hall” and move on. Many worthwhile comments and discussions happen in that environment( the Hall) in every profession not only in education.

    1. As I read this, I wondered what kind of feedback you’ve received in school or the Provincial House hallways. If walls could talk. :) Thank you so much for your support, pape. It means a lot to know you are reading this.

  6. I empathize with you. :) I was thinking about what you wrote, and this came to mind. I think you could use this as a means for them to develop their writing skills. Just a thought.
    Have a great day!

    1. Thank you so much for that empathy Lee. It really shined through in that video. Tears welled up as I listened to the students express how much it meant to them that their teacher listened to them in that way. Such a powerful message. I will definitely be sharing. Have a wonderful day Lee!

      Gratefully,
      Josette

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s