Feedback (read between the lines)

IMG_20170514_112931Today a colleague of mine stopped by to observe one of my lessons. She’s a very nice, compassionate person and she never splits hairs when giving feedback. Still, I somehow wanted to show off a bit to prove that my students and I can do well (maybe because I’m the one who observes the members of the English department twice a year because it’s required of me as the head of the department to track the students’ as well as the teacher’s progress).

She chose to observe a group of 18-year-old students whose level of proficiency varies from C1 to B1. This huge gap is what worried me most when I learned that she was coming. And she did notice it indeed. She later told me was concerned about the weaker students as she thought the content of the lesson might have been too challenging for them. I didn’t agree and I explained to her that although the students might have struggled to understand every single word in the listening exercise, for example, they had successfully completed the tasks. But, as it later turned out, this was not the only problem.

It was the first lesson of the day. She entered the room a few minutes after the lesson had started so I hadn’t managed to talk to her in order to give her some basic information about the group. I didn’t think it would be an issue, though, as we are a small school and we know one another well and we also know the classes to some extent, even those we don’t teach. However, as I’m about to explain, it turned out to be quite an issue.

The trouble was that while observing the lesson, for the whole time, she thought I was actually teaching a different course. Also, she gathered that this group is using a specific set of coursebooks. However, we don’t use coursebooks at all. The students have a different teacher for their ‘regular’ English lessons and this, in fact, is an extension to their curriculum. My lessons are topic-based and they are focused on practicing the four skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. I imagine she must have been very confused the whole time. When I later told her that this was actually a ‘skills’ lesson, she couldn’t conceal her surprise.

What I’m trying to say it that the lesson probably looked totally out of context and out of place due to the fact that I hadn’t provided her with any information in advance. Thus, I think the observer should definitely and invariably talk to the observee before the lesson. Having said that, it really gets on my nerves when I hear all sorts of warnings from the observee prior to the lesson, such as “Oh, this is just a grammar lesson, don’t expect to witness any miracles“.

Anyway, I was quite happy with the first part of the lesson, which was actually a follow-up to the previous one. This, however, wasn’t to the good. The thing is that in a follow-up lesson, the students and the teacher usually know what’s happening because they were present the lesson before, but it may take a couple of minutes (or even more) till the observer understands where the teacher is actually headed.

Anyways, although the students seemed to like the lesson and the colleague took away a few useful activities, overall, I could have done better. I was particularly disappointed with the final part of the lesson because there was too much squeezed in and too little time left. What was the most frustrating, though, was the fact that I didn’t use its great potential.

After the lesson, my colleague said she had liked it, but I could tell there were some doubts questions swirling in her head. She asked me, for example, how I deal with errors in speaking. The thing is that as it was a”skills” lesson and the topic was moral dilemmas, I didn’t correct every single mistake – I simply didn’t want to interrupt a student saying something really personal or important. This may put the others off (especially those who are less confident speakers). This is how I explained it to my colleague. Then I pondered her question for a while and I realized that although I’m not too worried about grammatical mistakes, I almost always correct mistakes related to pronunciation. This demonstrates my priorities, I guess.

The bottom line is that not only do you get explicit feedback (when the observer says what they liked/disliked) but also feedback that is more implicit. This may come in the form of questions or puzzled looks, which are hints for a potentially fruitful discussion.

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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3 Responses to Feedback (read between the lines)

  1. mikecorea says:

    Hana! I loved this post. I think you captured the scene so well. I really wish I had access to this post a few years back when I was running courses on observation and feedback. Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Marc says:

    It’s great. I wish a recent observee of mine got the hint from the puzzled looks and questions.

    Liked by 1 person

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