12.08.15Dept. of Game-Changing Ideas: Feedback Before the Lesson
Imagine for a minute a school that provides lots of useful feedback to teachers. Perhaps this describes your own school. Trusted colleagues and peers frequently see you teach. They have a shared vision of successful teaching that aligns to your own in large part and they take time to give you concrete practical advice to help you get a little better. They see you teach often enough that they know the true you and aren’t thrown off too much by any one data point. They know the true you and help you think about whether the best version of yourself came out in each lesson.
Sounds like the perfect learning environment for teachers, right? But my colleague Katie Yezzi has been pushing me to think of some ways that even this lovely setting could be better.
Feedback, she observed recently, is great after a lesson but it’s even better before a lesson. When teachers and leaders invest time and brainpower in reviewing lesson plans and practicing lessons before they get taught rather than giving feedback on lessons that already happened these things are likely to happen:
- As a teacher, getting feedback on a lesson to ensure its success ahead of time is incredibly practical, actionable and supportive. It means I go into my lessons more confident and prepared. That sounds like a great way to feel at work each day.
- As a coach, it seems like a powerful use of my skills and abilities to engage with teachers about lessons to come, to dig deeply into the content and the “why” of the lesson. It also positions me more as a partner in the work, rolling up my sleeves to work out the lessons in advance.
- Haven’t we all walked in to observe lessons only to find that something is being taught wrong? Then as a coach we have few options, and often have to jump in to ensure students don’t have to later unlearn and relearn the correct version. That usually doesn’t make teacher or coach love their job. Catching the errors before they happen achieves our goals of teacher and student success.
- All teachers want to do well in the classroom, and in this system they use the knowledge of their instructional leader and colleagues in the best possible way. They enter a practice session highly motivated and therefore receptive to feedback given during practice that will lead them to success in the big game. Even a teacher who is eager to hear feedback about a previous lesson most likely doesn’t seek or receive that feedback with the same urgency.
So how could you do this? How might you get feedback before you teach? Here are five ideas.
- Lesson plan review. Teacher brings lesson plan he or she is going to teach soon. Supervisor, mentor, partner, dept chair, or principal gives feedback in one on one session
- Lesson plan review group protocol. Department or grade-level team gets together. One or two teachers present their lessons for 30 mins a get feedback. It might look like this:
- Teachers sit in a circle.
- Teacher presenting lesson describes background, context and objective of lesson for three minutes
- Colleagues go in order around the circle and ask clarifying questions if they have them (they should “pass” if not). A clarifying question is NOT one in which the asker gives his or her opinion by disguising it as a question: “Did you think about including more guided questions?” They are questions with a factual answer that the asker does know the answer to (e.g. what was your objective the day before this lesson? the day after? How many students do you have in the class? How long have you been studying this topic? How long is the class period. The teacher presenting the lesson can answer these questions but all parties must be fast. There’s three minutes in all.
- Colleagues go around the circle in order and identify “glows” about the lesson. Their goal is to speak for 30 seconds but the maximum is a minute. After that the moderated says :time.” They describe things they thought were effective. Their goal is not to make their colleague feel better but to be very specific in explaining why so their colleague knows what things to replicate and to some degree why. This round goes for ten minutes and it keeps going even if all participants have passed once. The person presenting may not reply to any of the comments.
- Colleagues go around the circle in the same manner but this time identify “grows” or “might haves”–what are potential misunderstandings? things that might go wrong? descriptions that aren’t clear? missing step? other things the teacher might try? Again the goal is to speak for 30 seconds but the maximum is a minute.This round, too, goes for ten minutes and it keeps going even if all participants have passed once. Again, the person presenting may not reply to any of the comments.
- The session ends with five minutes for the presenter to reply to all of the feedback: what resonated most? What themes did he or she hear? What changes will he or she make?
- Hybrid Practice Session. Teacher brings lesson plan he or she is going to teach soon. Supervisor, mentor, partner, dept chair, or principal gives feedback in one on one session. Teacher and colleague choose some key areas, perhaps a critical stretch of questioning. Teacher practices and gets feedback.
- Lesson study. Teacher teaches a portion of the lesson for a group of colleagues before teaching it to students. Gets feedback.
- Plan for Error Session. Teacher writes up a plan describing two likely student errors that might occur during a key portion of the lesson and what he or she might do about them if they did occur. Discussion and role play with mentor, colleague etc.
This sounds like a great idea but I work at a small school of 350 students from pre-K to 12th and I’m the whole high school math department. In addition, I spend so much time doing other things that I don’t know when I’d do this. I’d have to have the middle school math teacher and two of the elementary teachers who know math. I might brooch it and see if we can manage it maybe one a month?