The impact of beliefs on feedback

In early December I had the great pleasure to give  two  3-hour presentations about co-teaching with my friend/colleague/former course participant. We did these presentations over two days and the first day was with Korean public school teachers and the second day was with “native” teachers working in the same public schools. (Please don’t ask why they came on different days!) As part of the 3-hour session we co-taught a roughly 3o-minute demo lesson for about 20 of the 90 audience members.  The rest of the audience watched the lesson with a task of checking the models of co-teaching that we showed. They also were asked to give us written feedback on the demo lesson.

In our demo we used two responses to a question about co-teaching  from an advice column (think Dear Abby for teachers) from KOTESOL’s quarterly magazine (the responses can be found on pages 10-11 here). We tried to model different co-teaching strategies while using  a PDP framework for a reading lesson. We split the group of 20 “students’ into smaller groups of 10 and did a variation of parallel teaching with each of us doing the same/similar vocabulary activities at the same time with some of the words that appeared in the texts. Next, we switched groups (well we intended to anyway. I forgot one day and just kept going with the same group!) and did some reading tasks (reading for gist, reading for more detail, and deciding if they’d like to work with the advice givers and why) with our groups. What the “students” didn’t know at the time was that there were actually two different sets of advice written by two different authors. After we let them in on this  surprise we gave them one more chance to read in preparation for telling a new partner from the other group about the advice they’d read. They read once again and then shared the advice. The final stage was for groups of 4 “students” to make a poster consisting of the best advice for co-teachers, either from what they’d read, heard, or experienced.

A rough outline of the 3 presentation hours ended up being  something like:

1st hour: Presentation on possible styles of co-teaching, potential benefits, reasons for doing it and things to consider when planning and co-teaching

2nd hour: Setting things up and then the 30 minute-ish demo described above and a longer break to read the feedback

3rd hour:  Reflection and post lesson discussion between co-teachers, responding to the written  questions and feedback we’d received from the audience, talking about potential difficulties with co-teaching and Q&A time with the audience.

The feedback that we asked for was on a half piece of paper and consisted of the following stem sentences:

1. I noticed…

2) I liked…

3) Why did/Why didn’t you…?


Our basic idea was that collecting feedback on the demo lesson would help us think of things to address in our (unscripted) post-lesson meeting and would give us a sense of what the audience was thinking and feeling about the demo lesson. Some of the feedback was quite useful and helpful. Some of the feedback was not quite as helpful. After I had a while to let things settle, one of the most interesting things I noticed from the feedback was that it often showed very clear indications of the beliefs of the audience members about what (good?) teaching “should” look like.  Here is a sampling:

“It is really important to tell the students what the teacher will teach.”

“Why didn’t you make a PowerPoint to share they key points?”

“Why didn’t you pre-teach vocabulary?”

“Where is the consolidation step?”

“Why didn’t you show the whole lesson , for example from greeting to saying goodbye?”

I must admit that when I first read some of the feedback (in the break between the the 2nd and 3rd hour) I was a bit frustrated. Honestly, the majority of the feedback was quite positive and the negative feedback was mostly about the room and the set up and the inherent problem of having 2 teachers with 20 “students” and 70 people watching them but not hearing or seeing well. Yet, as usual it was the negative feedback that stayed in my mind.

The above comments hit me differently than others. I guess on an emotional level they bothered me because they were all things that we could have done but chose not to (I think there is already enough PPT in the world thank you very much) or didn’t think were necessary for this specific demo lesson (for example greeting people we had already been working with for an hour).

We were hoping for questions about co-teaching as it relates to the demo lesson we did. The questions above were not that of that type and seem to be more focused on what we missed in the lesson.

I think it is interesting to note that only the first point reads like an actual statement of belief. The other questions about “Why didn’t’ you?” or “Where was the ___?” seem to imply that these are necessary things that were missing from the lesson. My sense from reading some of this feedback is that perhaps for some teachers lessons are thought to be a combination of checking all the boxes and doing all the necessary steps. This is not a belief that I share.

It seems to me that in addition to trying to model co-teaching strategies we were also (unknowingly?) sharing certain aspects of our beliefs about teaching that might not have matched those of the audience. Perhaps this blocked them from really thinking and learning about c0-teaching. Unfortunately, for some people it seems that not stating the aims or officially greeting the students at the start of the lesson was the noticeable thing rather than the co-teaching strategies we were trying to model.

I find it very interesting to think about how much our beliefs about teaching impact what we see and what we say when asked for feedback. I will try to keep this in mind as I participate in presentations/workshops (as a presenter and audience member) as well as when observing teachers.

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10 comments

  1. Kevin Giddens

    Great post! It’s funny how despite my awareness of the importance of balancing positive and negative feedback – I can’t deny the emotional jolt that runs through me as I read the negative stuff.

    So… if teaching is not about “checking all the boxes a doing all the necessary steps” then what is is about exactly? I think that this belief is perpetuated this on teacher training courses by a undue focus on lesson frameworks and best practices.

    Kevin

    • mikecorea

      Undue focus on lesson frameworks? I think I have heard that somewhere before. Actually, I think I have said that before.

      I think that we can agree that there are things “beyond best practices.” Perhaps teacher training courses are getting there slowly.

      If teaching is beyond checking all the boxes, I think it is (should be) about learning.

      Thanks so much for the comments and sorry for the delay in responding.

  2. kevin stein

    Ah, two comments, two Kevins (That could be a band name I think)

    Lately I’m also wrestling with feedback. I don’t do much teacher training, but I have been trying to implement feedback channels in every class I teach. So sometimes it’s a formal survey, sometimes it’s just a set of 3 questions I ask the students to answer at the end of class. The other day one student wrote, “You should say what you are going to do in class at the beginning of class every time!” Yes, with an exclamation point. After two years of taking my classes, I would have thought that this particular student would have gotten used to the fact that I don’t want students to necessarily know what is coming next, just as they won’t know what is coming next in a conversation. But like you said Michael, our beliefs and the audience’s/student’s beliefs of what makes a good class can differ.

    But I kind of want to flip the question around. I wonder how our own beliefs impact the way in which we ask for feedback? And the does the way we are trained to give feedback sometimes short-circuit the actual purpose of feedback? It seems pretty clear to me that comments on the demo lesson would be used in the Q&A in regards to co-teaching. But if teachers are trained to give feedback on lessons in a certain manner (usually critically), then some of them will simply do so regardless if the context calls for something else. So the get caught up in the “frameworks and best practices” that Kevin (not me) points out is too often the focus of training courses.

    Thanks for the read.

    K. Stein

    • mikecorea

      I was thinking of a TV show, “My two Kevins.” Umm yeah..

      Thanks so much for the comments.

      The ““You should say what you are going to do in class at the beginning of class every time!” made me smile as this is feedback I have received quite a lot.

      I have been thinking lately that collecting the type of feedback that you describe is a chance to let out some pressure (think: valve) rather than always a way to gather information to make dramatic changes.

      I am thinking back to some positive feedback experiences I have had in the past and more than one of them was working with Kevin G. We collected feedback on 3 colored cards. One for please keep doing, one for consider doing, and one for please stop doing. (Note: I don’t advocate using green, orange and red because the metaphor is too confusing, or at least for me). So we got a nice mix of colors and happily noticed that some of the “keep doings” were things that we hadn’t really thought of. Some of the requests were simply impossible, some didn’t match our beliefs and some were great ideas that we immediately implemented. Talking with the course participants later at least 3 of them mentioned how impressive it was that we calmly talked about the feedback and addressed their suggestions. I sometimes wish that I could capture the essence of that experience because it seemed very positive and useful for all involved.

      I love your questions, “I wonder how our own beliefs impact the way in which we ask for feedback? And the does the way we are trained to give feedback sometimes short-circuit the actual purpose of feedback? ”

      One thing that perhaps made the above experience so positive is that the course participants had some shared idea about what the course was like and what useful feedback might be. (Yes, they were teachers but I don’t think that teachers are always the best at giving feedback either). Also, maybe we asked for the type of feedback that might map on nicely to our beliefs (and our ability/inability to change things).

      I think that next time (if) I ask for feedback in the middle (!) of a presentation I will be much clearer on what I want and what I am looking for!

      Thanks again for the comments. I really appreciate it.

  3. purpleHand

    “Where is the consolidation step?”
    “Why didn’t you write the learning objectives on the board?”

    Oh… my all-time favorite questions. I also remember getting frustrated whenever I get these questions or feedback, yelling inside, ‘that’s not the point!!!’ But then I found myself questioning at one point, ‘so why not? Why not putting the objectives on the board? It’s not a secret. Some learners want to see the clear outcome of the class and may benefit from knowing that they are learning something for a purpose.’ Of course there are other ways to inform learners on the “how” and “why” of the learning outcome, but I don’t think that showing the objectives at the beginning of the class isn’t such a bad idea as I thought or I used to believe.

    So yes, I also think that “our beliefs about teaching impact what we see and what we say when asked for feedback,” and the same goes to me who receives the feedback. Do I want to hear what I want to hear? Do I want them to be critical and get to the point (in my perspective)? Yes. Why so? Because that’s what I want them to see and realize? Do they want the same? I got lost several times on this when I couldn’t get the audience to the point I wanted to take them and felt that if there is not comment ground of shared belief, any further discussion can easily lead to denial or misunderstanding.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments, Ms. Hand.

      I think you make very good points about objectives….and one that I think I will have to address in a future post!

      The words that jumped out to me in the second part was “shared belief” and “common ground.” I think that this is part of the “problem” with the presentation that I talked about. We were aiming quite high (with different approaches to co-teaching) but not thinking how easily the audience could get lost. (Actually to be fair we were thinking about it—especially my partner–but I think we still overshot a little bit.) I mean…in our lesson we were treating reading like a skill. This is enough of a material for hours worth of sessions but we just treated it like it was normal and natural. I can see how this could be confusing for people who think of reading only as a means to deliver vocab and grammar. Wow….perhaps another blog post! 🙂

      Thanks again for the comments and I have a feeling that I will talk to you soon.

      Cheers,
      Mike

  4. mikecorea

    I just mentioned a take-away from the experience above in my comments to Kevin S.

    Here are some others:

    Some of the many possible takeaways from this experience:

    Be careful what you ask for (if you ask for questions about Why you did/didn’t do something you are likely to get such answers)

    Remember that you can’t reach everyone with what you want to share. People will take away different things (good/bad/confusing/otherwise) from presentations, workshops and lessons.

    Consider where/when/how to be “radical” and different

  5. Justin

    And consider which expectations you are willing to meet, in order to avoid distractions. 🙂 An interesting one for me- when I teach observed classes in Korea, I make it a point to spend a few minutes greeting the students, asking about their weekends, etc.

    Often, students don’t understand what I’m asking, are embarassed by speaking in front of the group, or just plain don’t believe I care what they did last weekend. (They’re right. I sometimes don’t. 10-year-olds rarely get up to anything interesting.) This “class greeting” honestly seems like a total waste of time to me.

    But if I don’t do this, which I’ve tried, the teachers that are observing me always ask why I didn’t, and insist that it’s a necessary way to build rapport with students. Their belief in the importance of this part of the class seems to ingrained for me to “fight.”

    So I just do it. In the hope that it’s one less distraction from what I’m really trying to get across…

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the comments, Justin. I think you made a very good point, here about considering which expectations we are willing to meet. I think it can be easy to fall into doing only what we believe in or view as a good lesson…but this can obviously be distracting. Your example really hits home as this is something that I have noticed in many lessons as a sort of rule. I think I will be more choosy in what rules and conventions I choose to break. Picking battles seems like a reasonable course of action.

      Though I will say that in the heat of planning the demo mentioned above I was in a slightly different mindset. 🙂

      And by the way “10-year-olds rarely get up to anything interesting” got a nice chuckle out of me.

      Cheers,
      Mike

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