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Using The In-service Feedback Session To Actively Promote Teacher Self-Development
by Henny Burke
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Flexibility And Appropriacy

The above teacher had done her CTEFLA course in November 1993, and had only been teaching for three months when this observation and feedback session took place. Freeman (1982) would probably advocate, according to his "hierarchy of needs", that this teacher would be best suited with his Prescriptive or Alternatives approach. However, I would argue that any teacher at any stage of his/her career could benefit from the feedback framework I am proposing. Possibly, the more experienced the teacher, the less need for phase three, but this is not necessarily so. What is important in this framework is that the three phases are flexible. The responsiveness of the teacher to each phase dictates the length of time it is necessary to spend on each one.

Teacher Evaluation Of The 3 Phase Feedback Framework

In order to evaluate the 3 phase feedback framework, I asked eight teachers who had been observed by me from October 1993 - May 1994 to fill out a questionnaire in June 1994.

Results of Questionnaire
a) How did you feel while you were receiving the feedback? In response to this question all teachers felt relaxed during the feedback session. "Relaxed. I felt that I was really thinking about and analysing my own teaching, approach to teaching and that class in particular." "I didn't feel as though I was being criticised. In some ways teaching is quite a "private" thing - only your students know what you actually do in the classroom and it's quite strange to be sharing it and then discussing it, but it's also quite reassuring."

b)How did you feel after the feedback sessions? All teachers felt positive after the feedback session: "Optimistic that students' problems might be able to be tackled." However, more than one teacher reported feeling tired. "Quite tired, due I suppose to the fact that I did all the talking and thinking - not a bad thing." The fact that some teachers found the feedback sessions tiring indicates to me that they were participating very actively in the process and self-development was indeed taking place.

c)To what extent do you think you will consciously try and incorporate the feedback given in the prescription stage into your teaching? The responses to this question suggest that all teachers did try and incorporate the feedback into their teaching. "I've since done a couple of lessons on revision/improvement which have been very successful and helped the students realise how much more they know." However, not all the ideas that came up in the feedback sessions proved to be successful with the students. "Gave them learner diaries but absolutely no response from them."

d)Did you find the feedback relevant to your general teaching situation? In answer to this question all teachers found the feedback relevant. One teacher's answer to this question helps explain why this was so: "The opportunity for guiding the feedback towards areas you yourself would like to explore is there which is great."

e)Was this feedback similar to or different from the feedback you received on your CTEFLA course? This question raised interesting responses. One teacher felt both feedback situations were similar; two teachers felt they were similar in some ways and five teachers felt they were completely different. "Similar in that you were expected to analyse and criticise the lesson for yourself, but different in content." "It's different. This feedback is more discussing techniques, ideas etc. and during the CTEFLA course the feedback is more critical."

f)Did you feel the observer had a particular view of teaching which was not necessarily compatible with your view of teaching? In response to this question everybody answered in the negative. "In fact, I don't think the observer's view of teaching was a central issue. Feedback is more about one's own view."

g)Did you feel you were being allowed to develop and get to know yourself as a teacher in the feedback sessions? All the teachers felt they were listened to and allowed to express themselves in the feedback sessions. However, one teacher felt she could have benefited from more prescription.

"Yes, but I would honestly like your opinions too. I know you don't like to influence people but for me it would have been helpful to have been given a little more direction."

This is an interesting comment as I felt I had given quite a lot of direction in the third phase of our feedback sessions, but she obviously had not perceived it as prescriptive enough. My interpretation of this point is that the fault does not lie in the feedback framework I am proposing, but probably lies in the way I handled that part of the feedback sessions. I needed to mark the stages more clearly.

Another factor might have been that the above teacher was less convinced about the value of self-exploration and wished to receive advice from an authority figure. Freeman(1 982) might argue that, being a relatively new teacher of eight months' experience, she needed more prescription. However, I feel this is more related to personality and learning background as another teacher with even less experience in response to the same question wrote:

"I definitely feel that I have developed a lot throughout these months. Feedback did have a part to play, but quite small, and I think that student responses and a process of trial and error have been far more important."

h)How did you feel about doing the focussing circles? Most teachers found it quite difficult to do the focussing circles: "They're a good idea, but I do find it difficult to think of things to write." A teacher of nine years' experience, made an interesting point with respect to focussing circles: "Self-criticism has to be taught from the beginning of one's TEFL career instead of so much observation. I mean, this technique should be used from Day 1 as a constant self-criticism technique."

i)How important was the written feedback for you? Did you feel oral feedback would have been enough? The oral feedback was valued more highly than the written feedback, but the latter was viewed as a good record. "Not as important as the oral, though a good reference point."

j)Do you have any comments/suggestions on how the oral/written feedback you received throughout this year could have been more effective? An interesting comment was made in response to this question: "Perhaps there could have been more involvement and feedback at the lesson planning stage."

k)Please feel free to add any other comments you feel it would be useful for me to be aware of? In response to this question, the comments below show how stressful in-service observation is for many teachers. "Inevitably fear of the observation changes the class to a certain degree from a normal one. Perhaps the observee should be encouraged to compare these or have it more clearly indicated that the idea is one of self-improvement and not "boss-employee" criticism.

I had hoped that the feedback framework I am proposing would have solved the problems this teacher raises. However, fear of observation often runs deep. It is my belief that the more this kind of feedback framework is employed, the more teachers' minds will be put at rest because its main aim really is to promote teacher self-development.

Conclusion

Having listened to audio-tapes of the feedback sessions and studied the Post-Lesson tasks; Focussing Circles; written profiles and having read the teachers' evaluation of this feedback framework, I am convinced that it is possible to actively promote teacher development in the feedback session. An essential factor in this process is the supervisor's use of active listening whereby teachers are encouraged to express themselves; hear themselves and ultimately become more self-aware.

On the theme of development I have also become convinced of the validity to supervisors of audio-taping feedback sessions that they conduct. By listening to what we, as supervisors, are saying we also become aware of prejudices and fixed ideas that we hold. Freeman claims that development encompasses, "aspects of a teacher's teaching that stem from attitude toward, and awareness of, self in the classroom." (Freeman 1989: 40) In order for teacher educators to develop they need to be equally aware of aspects stemming from their attitude toward, and awareness of self in feedback sessions.

References

Edge, J. 1992 Cooperative Development. Longman Group.UK Ltd.

Egan, R. 1986 The Skilled Helper.(3rd ed.) Wadsworth lnc, Belmont, California

Freeman, D. 1982 "Observing Teachers: Three Approaches To Inservice Training And Development." TESOL Quarterly. Vol.16 No. 1 March 1982: 21-8

Freeman, D. 1989 "Teacher Training, Development And Decision Making: A Model Of Teaching And Related Strategies For Language Teacher Education. TESOL Quarterly Vol.23 No.1 March 1989: 27-45

Biodata

Henny Burke is Co-Director of Studies at the British Language Centre, Madrid. Spain. She works as a teacher and a teacher trainer on inservice programmes, RSA/UCLES CTEFLA/CELTA and DTEFLA/DELTA courses. She has completed the Aston University MSc. course in Teaching English & is currently involved in coursebook writing for Cambridge University Press. Henny

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