Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.

I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.

We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

  • a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
  • board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.

If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan, as seen from the roof of the Duomo
Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

  1. Hi Sandy
    This came up on my feed just as I’d finished reading the MCT’s feedback notes on the feedback I conducted today, on the 2nd week of my TinT! Needless to say the timing couldn’t have been any better. Thank you so much for continuing to share your reflections and experience with us.
    This was so useful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this. I’ve been a CELTA trainer for nearly 15 years but I’m not sure whether I get feedback right. I have a tendency to rush in with responses and don’t always coax reponses from trainees as effectively as I might. Towards the end of a course, I ask each trainee to take on the role of the trainer where they lead feedback. This keeps me in check and makes them focus (watching your peers teach over 6 months (we run p/t courses) is rather repetitive!)
    Like the ‘kiss’ and the ‘kick’ idea!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Clare. I like the idea of getting a trainee to take on the role of trainer, as both you and David have suggested. It’s something I’d like to try on a future course.


  3. Hi Sandy! I am still working on mine:)
    What works for me:
    1. during TPs I write a question on a post-it note about a particular stage/activity/point of the lesson and pass it around to the trainees, they read it and try to focus on it – helps them to notice major things during the lesson. Then they would collect all the notes for one lesson and give it to the trainee who was teaching – for him/her to reflect. That’s why they are more active during the FB sessions and can easily give fb to each other. I then can use the session as a teaching slot and focus more on issues of TTT, setting up the activities etc. The trainees found that very useful and said that they were learning a lot in the FB sessions 🙂

    2. On my last course I tried “the song that you associate with the lesson” type of feedback for their last TP. (Irina once mentioned it in one of her posts).
    And it was amazing! All the trainees came up with the songs and managed to justify their choice. Their choices include a national anthem, “A bridge over troubled waters”, “Show must go on”, “I’m a barbie girl”, “Let it be”, etc.

    3. Another fb technique was “what would you like to give/receive as a gift to/from your peer”, in other words they give one of their strengths to the peers and get another strength in return.
    (does it make sense?)

    4. On this course I will be trying “6 words to characterize the lesson”. I’ll let you know how it goes:)


    1. Looking forward to hearing how the 6 words thing goes! Lots of interesting ideas here. I’ve tried passing questions, with mixed success. My main observation task for trainees now is getting them to note down the stages of the lesson and what the teacher/students are doing at each point – I find it helps them to internalise lesson staging and notice the students more, and has helped them to give more detailed feedback to each other, though for some trainees it can still be a real challenge!


  4. For me, feedback on Celta depends on the mood of the candidates. The first couple of TPs are positive. When I feel the pressure rising I try to think about progress over the whole course to date. Sometimes candidates focus on very specific features of their most recent lesson and I find it useful to get them to take a step back in order to view overall progress. It helps avoid seeing a plateau or dip, and can give belief in their ability to make significant progress.

    I also try to take more of a back seat as the course progresses. I prompt the other candidates to give more feedback and occasionally give them a feedback task related to an area their working on. It could be writing down the instructions for a candidate who struggles in this area, concept checking for a candidate who never does this. During the last TPs I may even ask a strong candidate to lead it. They’ve never let me down. However, in such cases I always reinforce, question or add to the feedback. The group need the tutor’s feedback, both spoken and written.

    Like the picture by the way. IH Milan was in a four-storey building when I was there. Good to see it growing!


    1. Hi David,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree that the emphasis on progress is very important, and in the final TP I always ask trainees to give each other feedback on how they’ve progressed since TP1. There are lots of ideas in your comment which I’d like to steal, so thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Sandy.

    Love hearing about your reflections!

    I always try to let the other trainees lead the feedback sessions, jumping in to ask questions if necessary (“How could xx have been done better?”) and of course adding in if something important is not mentioned, or if they are only focussing on the positive or negative.

    I definitely found it difficult in the beginning not to lead the session but I find that the less I say, the more they do. Sometimes I “cheat” and put a few keywords on the board to prompt their ideas.

    I’m not sure if your setup is the same, but we give feedback the day after the TP, and we record our trainees. This gives each trainee a night to watch their lessons and reflect on their teaching before hearing other people’s ideas. The recording definitely helps!

    Just a few ideas 🙂


    1. Hi Kirsten,
      Thanks for your thoughts. We’re currently running a part-time course at weekends, with TP in the mornings, so we do feedback straight afterwards. I sometimes use key words and I definitely think I should try to say less! Do you use video or audio recordings? I think they’re very useful (as in my latest post!) but it’s not always easy to persuade trainees to be recorded!


  6. We always have one TP where the trainee is recorded. I think they’re such a great tool. Our trainees are generally very open to the idea of being recorded but I think it’s because they do it only once. After that I’m not sure they’d be so keen to do it again! 🙂


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