Creating the Best Mindset for Lesson Feedback

By Jeanette Barsdell

lesson plan feedbackThe article explores how to create the best mindset for giving constructive oral lesson feedback to a teacher whose lesson you have observed. The teacher has written the plan and delivered the lesson. You observed, took notes and now have to give the final oral feedback…

Firstly acknowledge the natural anxiety around giving oral feedback, which is potentially stressful for both parties. It’s rare that an observer doesn’t have a relationship with the teacher outside of the classroom. They may be colleagues, rivals, lovers, ex-lovers, friends, whatever, but usually that relationship existed before the feedback and can have an impact on our feelings about giving feedback, worrying us about how the relationship may change for the worse because of it. We are also concerned that the feedback might be unfairly distorted or modified by the relationship and that we risk compromising our integrity for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

The feedback giver tends to be in the position of power, which adds to the feeling of responsibility. Add into the pot natural fears about confrontation, having your judgements challenged, upsetting the teacher, working with older or more experienced teachers, and perhaps anxiety about our own level of knowledge. We know that giving lesson feedback is a highly skilled, communicative process, which can be either hugely beneficial or destructive and demotivating. No wonder it’s often scary. The key to dealing with the anxiety is to acknowledge it, accept it and then move on to rely on planning, rehearsal and feedback preparation.

Challenging teachers

Sometimes observers avoid challenging teachers on their practice. It may be because they fear upsetting the teacher, because of age or cultural differences of because of lack of confidence in the face of a more experienced or qualified teacher. For successful observations view feedback as an opportunity to celebrate success, to applaud the teacher’s skills and perhaps to explore ways to continue developing their skills.

For weaker lessons, understand that a teacher who is struggling is usually very aware of the fact, and might be stressed and anxious about their classes. Learners may be giving negative feedback to the DOS, grumbling amongst themselves or moving to other schools, so the teacher may find their hours being reduced or may be at risk of losing their job completely. When giving feedback, If you feel your nerve slipping keep in mind that effective, constructive feedback can significantly help to improve a teacher’s working life.

Teaching bias

There are some types of activities that you may never do when you are teaching and you may cringe when you see others do them, even if the learners seem to love them and the teacher executes them well. It’s natural to compare the way the lesson is taught with the way you would teach it; however, it’s important to ensure that your personal preferences don’t become your measuring stick.

Sometimes you may suggest activities to the teacher, which are often your own favourites, and then the teacher does a modified version of the task. It can be hard to step back and be objective when watching your own lesson being poorly taught, or differently from the way you intended. The trick is to focus on the students and to follow the mantra of ‘effectiveness’. Is the teacher doing the task in a way that effectively meets the aim? If you are the type of assessor that gives proscriptive lessons for a teacher to follow, you will need to think about how you respond when your ideas are not followed to the letter.

Set up your own observation goals

Be clear in your own mind what you want to achieve from each feedback session. How will you know if you have been successful or not? For example, do you want the teacher to know what a great job they are doing and encourage them to experiment more, or do you want to set out a development strategy without demotivating the teacher who is getting learner complaints? Whatever your desired outcome it helps to envisage it like a main lesson aim, so that a lot of the small stuff loses power and your main message is clear.

Give yourself some time

Avoid immediate feedback if you can. Many observations are squeezed into an already busy program, often late in the evening, by a tired observer. If you can, try to delay feedback, it’s amazing the positive difference a good night’s sleep and some emotional distance can have, especially if you have observed a weak lesson. If you found yourself frustrated, bored or confused during the observation then a little time will let you review your notes without a charged emotional filter.

Talk through your feedback with a colleague

Talk through your notes with someone else if you can. Ask ‘how does this sound to you’? Even very experienced observers will sometimes come out of an observation and not be clear or sure about what they have seen. They may be unsure as to how to put their thoughts on the lesson into a constructive summary, or developmental points, or how to prioritise the teacher’s developmental needs. A useful tip is to give another trainer your lesson commentary sheet to see if they can work out from your notes what the key developmental points should be. If they are not the same as yours, you may need to rejig your analysis or commentary. Doing this helps you to check that what you are saying makes sense and that you have the right tone.

Be patient

It’s worth keeping in mind that change is incremental and won’t happen all in one go. Try not to get frustrated if you don’t see much improvement from one lesson to the next; development rarely happens quickly.

It’s not about ‘you’

The main subject of the lesson feedback is the learners or the actual lesson. For example, ‘if you reduce teacher talk, learners will have more time on task’ is very direct compared to ‘reduced teacher talk will lead to more learner on task time’. Depersonalise and frame your feedback in terms of benefits to learners and improvements in the lesson rather than direct comments about the teacher.

Jeanette Barsdell is the author of ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook.

The book is designed to support observers in the complex and difficult task of assessing language lessons and giving effective, constructive oral and written feedback. The book helps you to set up a formal observation, decode a lesson plan, understand a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and correctly pitch your feedback to the teacher’s ability and level of experience. Packed with useful checklists, tips and commentary suggestions. An accessible and practical resource for ELT lesson assessors. The writer is a highly-experienced Cambridge CELTA/YL tutor and trainer with wide international experience developing ELT trainers and academic managers.

Written by Jeanette Barsdell for July 2018
Jeanette Barsdell is an experienced Cambridge CELTA/YL/TKT tutor with nearly 30 years ELT international experience. She has a background in developing ELT businesses and training trainers & DOS's.


  • djoudi maxime says:

    hello.I hope it IS THE BEST METHOD TO LEARN

  • Addisu says:

    Hello doctor? I am very happy with the information that you provided or informed me to follow the next lesson. I hope it will be more interesting in my context, LEXICAL APPROACH, to teaching grammar and vocabulary. Thus, I think you will send me this, and even you may invite me to join somewhere lively or through internet. Thanks!

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