Group Feedback Sessions: Beliefs and Techniques

Zhenya PolosatovaBy Zhenya Polosatova

For the last 10 years I have been working as a teacher trainer on short-term intensive pre-service and in-service courses in various parts of the world. These courses vary in length (from two to six weeks) and in main focus (TESOL, TEFL, teaching Young Learners, etc.), but they all have a practical component where the course participants teach lessons to the learners of English, taking turns to lead a part of the lesson, observe each other doing it, and then sit down together for group feedback sessions. In this post I would like to share some beliefs and rationale for making choices and decisions during such sessions as a trainer.

First of all, in the life outside our classroom feedback can be defined as ‘information about the results of a process’. If we agree that a lesson is a process, then feedback is an appropriate professional development tool for us teachers to grow. Here are some reasons (the Why) for having feedback sessions on an intensive training course, listed in my subjective order of priority:

  •  helping the teachers develop their reflective competence as a skill that they can continue using after the course ends
  • modeling a (possible) teacher development tool they will experience in the future career (giving and receiving feedback from peers)
  • facilitating professional relationship (again, for the actual/potential workplace)
  • inspiring positive attitude towards giving and receiving feedback from others
  • helping the individual teachers meet the standards and receive the certificate

A typical feedback session on courses I run ‘covers’ these aspects (the What):

  1. discussing whether the lesson objective/aim was achieved, and the evidence for that;
  2. discussing the strengths of the lesson — the aspects, techniques, and tasks that helped student learning and facilitated their achievement of the lesson objective (in planning or delivering the lesson);
  3. discussing the areas that might be improved for better facilitating student learning (again, in planning or delivering the lesson).
Taking teachers through the reflective process. A slide from the presentation Teacher Change Beyond Borders: Regional Impact of Experiential Professional Development by Josephine Kennedy, Kevin Giddens and Helena Simas, with World Learning and AMIDEAST, TESOL Convention 2016
Taking teachers through the reflective process. A slide from the presentation Teacher Change Beyond Borders: Regional Impact of Experiential Professional Development by Josephine Kennedy, Kevin Giddens and Helena Simas, with World Learning and AMIDEAST, TESOL Convention 2016


Now, since we talk about group feedback session, we can think Who can be the source, or provider of the ‘information’ to the participant who was observed (I will call him/her ‘Teacher’ below). The options are obvious: the trainer and/or the peers from the group.

If we put together the Why, the What and the Who, we will see two main approaches to group feedback sessions, or the How:

individual (one by one, participant by participant): the trainer is asking questions (largely based on the What above), and the Teacher is answering; other participants might, or might not be involved in the conversation; the trainer might then give a brief summary of their own thoughts on the lesson.

interactive (in small groups): participants are working in groups, the Teacher works with the participants who observed it, and they discuss the questions; the trainer might give a brief summary of their own thoughts on the lesson — group by group, or to the whole group after everyone is finished.

I have experienced both of the approaches, as a trainer and as a course participant, so I can see advantages and disadvantages to either way. For example, discussing the lesson and sharing trainer comments in one large group means that everyone gets exactly the same ‘information’ about learning and teaching strategies, techniques and practices. A disadvantage, however, might be that there is much less ‘depth’ in such discussion as the time is limited and the trainer has to ‘go through’ all the teachers who taught on that day.

On the other hand, letting participants work in small(er) groups or pairs takes away some control from the trainer, allows them to be more independent and talk about the areas they feel are important for the lessons they taught or observed on that day. It does mean that each group might spend the time discussing various aspects, and not all group members are on the same page.

As you might have already guessed, I personally prefer running feedback sessions in small groups. To solve the problem of not having the trainer next to each participant during the whole session, I monitor closely moving from group to group and leave some ‘trainer time’ at the end of feedback. I also vary tasks, or specific questions to guide the discussion, if needed, and use interactive techniques to keep the conversation going. Some examples of such techniques include the following:

  • the teachers who observed the lesson (let’s call them Observers) become ‘trainers’ and ask guiding questions to the Teacher;
  • everyone writes down ‘memorable moments’ of the lesson (taught or observed), after which the Teacher picks the ones s/he would like to focus on. Depending on the available resources, the ‘moments’ can be written on small cards, posters, or boards;
  • the Observers create a poster for the Teacher which displays metaphors, learnings, questions, concerns. The Teacher then decides what s/he would like to have feedback on, and the conversation begins;
  • the trainer records and collects teaching beliefs brought up during the conversations in pairs, participants then decide if they agree or disagree with them.

[Note: as a trainer, I observe the lesson closely taking a lot of written notes, both on the lesson plan and on the lesson ‘flow’ as it is happening, so each Teacher receives a detailed written feedback after the feedback session finishes.]

You might have noticed that the techniques above are largely ‘borrowed’ from interactive speaking or writing lessons/input sessions, and they don’t feel like feedback to the Teachers receiving it. Feedback session on a course is a process, not just the fact of obtaining information, and oftentimes the conversation brings new depths and insights to the trainer. This could be part of the reason why I prefer to refer to such sessions as Guided Reflection Sessions as opposed to Feedback in my training courses.

Finally, by letting the participants be in charge of the depth and quality of feedback for each other we trainers model how learner autonomy can be encouraged, and how the principle of ‘meeting learners where they are’ works in action. In a way, that helps to make a bridge between teacher autonomy and student autonomy, and lead to more independent and productive learning. Do you share the same belief?

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Zhenya Polosatova

Zhenya Polosatova is a teacher, teacher trainer and Professional Development coach. She is based in Ukraine and works with teachers internationally, exploring how reflective practices and experiential learning, combined with positive regard and critical thinking, transform teaching and learning. Zhenya blogs at and is @ZhenyaDnipro on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Group Feedback Sessions: Beliefs and Techniques”

  1. Hi Matthew

    Thank you for the wonderful comment, and apologies for such a late reply.

    Some thoughts responding to you, in an attempt to continue this conversation:
    1) Your wrote: ‘there are times when I think trainees need to hear something only I know how to express’ — agree, there are such times to me, too. It is the ‘knowing what’ to express, plus having the role (power? authority? permission? expectation?) to do so for the group of learning teachers.

    2) While writing this post I had a 4-week course in mind, but focusing more on the more experienced participants (those who take it as a form of their own PD rather than a start to a new career) — that’s where the idea of having the certificate itself came as the last point in the list. I wonder if this is (slightly?) different for the beginning teachers, when there are only 4 weeks to start the reflective cycle and meet the course competencies

    3) Day efficiency: you mentioned that the feedback sessions often fall on the final slot of the day, and it is a hard(er) place for all involved (for you as a trainer, too, I imagine). I don’t know how much flexibility you have on the daily schedule decisions, but something I have tried in the past was shifting the feedback to the early slot on the following day. In this case, everyone leaves after the lesson, and the group gathers on the following morning for feedback. Pros and cons to it, as everything, but could be a solution with some courses.

    4) This sentence you wrote is very powerful and meaningful to me: ‘I’m seeing that to “meet the learners (or teachers) where they are” it really does need to be them who meet themselves and each other, as it’s them who are fully where they are; we’re just close by’. Understanding this, and then practicing it, changes the idea of ‘teacher training’ and becomes a more ‘teacher development’ kind of approach. Something more than 4 weeks — and something that can keep teachers in the job for a long time?

    Thank you for your comment and making me think more in this direction. Might write a follow-up on my blog soon 🙂


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