Samstag, 4. Februar 2012

thought a week - feedback and teacher training

The last week of every semester our groups get together with our teachers to reflect and talk about the teaching practice. Depending on the leading teacher, this talk can go either in the direction of self-evaluation or just feedbacking about the teaching experience and the teacher.
I have experienced both scenarios with a different set-up. One time we had a pretty big group, with about 30 to 35 student-teachers and six to seven teachers and we’re supposed to give feedback on our experience. Another time we had only ten to 15 student-teachers with two or three teachers and we had to talk about our personal development and reflect on it.
From my point of view, the differences in content and arrangement made a huge difference in the style and outcome of the whole discussion.
If you have a big group with a lot of different people in it, with some of them you may have closer relationship and others might seem more unfamiliar. And now you are supposed to share very personal thoughts about your experience in school. I can imagine that is not easy to do. There are more outgoing people in this group too, for whom it’s not hard to share stuff like that, but I’d say for the most part (and especially in the beginning of teacher-training) there are more conservative people.
With the previous thought in my mind, I expected that it’s going be an awkward silence with nobody really speaking up. But the thing that was a surprise for me that somehow the exact opposite happened. Unfortunately not in a good way. Everyone spoke pretty openly about their experiences and about their teacher, but everyone was giving way too positive feedback. Not only that, but each one was scratching on the surface with their feedback.
It was 20 times almost the exact same monologue, ‘yes, I really learned a lot and I really enjoyed the experience’. And the really weird part was when most of the teachers replied in the same way, ‘yes, it was the best student group I had in a long time, they worked really good...’ and so on.
Now I know that every group (we had smaller groups of two to three student-teachers in a semester) had really good conversation with their teacher
in private, in a confidential little circle, where was just the two other student-teachers and your teacher. During these meetings everyone opened up about their experiences and feelings and also gave valuable feedback to one another and the teacher. So in this case, I just don’t understand why it is forced onto bigger groups to do a group-talk, because it was obvious that nobody spoke honestly, and it’s understandable. On the other hand, it was great to talk with people who where closer to you during the whole semester, and nobody had a problem to share and give good feedback.
In the other scenario, I saw some other issues. First of all it was way better to talk in a smaller group, you wouldn't think that ten student-teacher really make that much of difference but it does. The other part was the self-evaluation process. The teachers asked everyone to talk about what they think their strength might be and what they’re planning on focusing for their future development. And their teachers were supposed to comment on that, and either confirm it or just give them some advice and encouragement. And out of this group, I’d say only two students said something about their weakness and that they want to work on a certain part. And also, there was only one student where the teacher said that he really needs to work on something, or that it might not be suiting for him to work with kids.
So even though the group was more private and the task was different it still ended up with the same results. Nobody was really honest in describing how they felt about themselves and nobody got valuable feedback for their development.

Giving valuable and appropriate feedback is enormously difficult, so not surprising to see almost everybody struggle with it.
We tend to think that we could hurt the persons feeling by giving feedback, so instead we don’t say anything or we say something superficial and overly positive.
It is extremely hard not to judge immediatly and get personal, we have to take a little time, really think about it and formulate a proper answer.
Easier said then done, but it’s actually not that hard to talk about something objectively, and explain what one saw and how one experienced it, and then suggest a solution based on that.
I think it’s really important to know about giving valuable feedback, because both parties can benefit. And especially if it’s needed in education or for a job, then all the participants should be taught about proper feedback and what they need to understand about the whole process.

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