Hot and cold feedback on pre-service teacher training courses

Gerard McLoughlin and Roger Hunt

Introduction

Written and oral feedback following teaching practice (TP) is central to pre-service teacher training courses. Our centre uses a two-fold written feedback system in which trainee teachers are asked to write a 'hot' feedback immediately after teaching which is passed to the tutor who gives an immediate written response. This is followed by a combination of oral and written delayed self evaluation by the trainee teacher and delayed oral and written feedback from the tutor.

In this article we argue for a 'hot' feedback system and support our arguments with comments from teachers in training who took part in the scheme in 2004 on three, concurrent full-time Cambridge CELTA course held at International House Barcelona. A total of 42 trainee teachers were kind enough to complete a very open questionnaire at the end of their course which simply asked them for comments under the following:

"Hot evaluation. Please write your comments on how it has helped you (or not) to reflect on your lessons."

Hot feedback

As mentioned above trainees are invited to make, in note form, an evaluation of their lesson immediately they finish teaching. This is responded to immediately in written form by the tutor. It is not included as part of any formal assessment. Trainees are given the following questions to guide their hot evaluation:

  1. What do you think went well?
  2. What didn't you like about the lesson?
  3. Is there anything you would do differently next time?
  4. Do you have any urgent questions I can answer?

The purpose of hot feedback is to enable a trainee to get off his or her chest initial perceptions of their own teaching performance and to get an immediate response to this. It is typically the case that a trainee's immediate thoughts on the lesson they have just taught are negative with words such as 'disaster', 'awful', 'dreadful' appearing in their written feedback, or positive statements such as 'great', 'they enjoyed themselves', 'we had fun'. In other words the trainees typically go for extremes: it didn't go as well as hoped for, or all was well. These two extremes are rarely accurate evaluations of the lesson. On the other hand some trainees' immediate evaluation is very accurate. All three types of feedback can be very informative as indications to the tutor of what needs to be focused on in delayed feedback. It also enables discussion to begin with phrases such as "As you said/pointed out in your hot evaluation….." as an acknowledgement of the pertinence of the trainee's reflection.

Cold (delayed) feedback

The purpose of the cold feedback is to allow the trainees to go home and reflect on their lesson in more detail, after some guidance through the 'hot'. This 'cold' feedback covers the aims of the lesson, the language dealt with and personal aims (whatever the trainee is concentrating on in terms of his/her own development, such as effective use of the whiteboard, questioning techniques and so on). In our centre this forms part of the Cambridge CELTA assignment 'Lessons from the Classroom' in which the trainees write an evaluation of their own teaching and that of others. This 'cold' self-evaluation is handed in the following day before oral feedback, allowing the trainer to have a better perception of the trainee's development and progress to date. We consider this insight into the trainee's thinking as one positive aspect of the system in as much as it assists the tutor in compiling a relevant agenda for feedback.

Arguments for

As mentioned above there are benefits both for the trainer and the trainee in this system: The trainer has some insight into the main points of discussion for the day; the trainee gets things of his/her chest and is better able to observe and attend to his/her colleagues teaching. There are many more arguments for the system which we would like to quote from the trainees surveyed:

  • "It helped me to organise my thoughts and not lose them the next day. They were a good reference for me to reflect on my lesson. If I didn't have those I would have forgotten much of my lesson."
  • "Above all it's just when you've just finished the lesson that you can reflect on how you feel it went it should be systematic to do this type of evaluation even after the course"*
  • "As I had just completed the lesson it was easy to remember what I had done"
  • "it's when there is a grand sense of clarity about flow or non flow..."
  • "I could show how the lesson went and could illustrate these points myself without the tutor having to tell me"
  • "I believe it is a good task to relieve tension and release immediate thoughts"
  • "Getting fast and effective feedback from a tutor after a lesson is very useful"
  • "It was still fresh in my mind. Anything particularly important was easy to recall"
  • "I recall the lesson in much greater detail (for good or for bad) than I could later or later the following day I wrote down an overall impression, good and bad points, and any surprising aspects of the lesson"
  • "I could reflect on the students and how they related to my lesson. I think I would carry on doing this in my real lessons"*
  • "I could remember specific examples of what students said and what problems they had"
  • "It enables you to get anything 'off your chest' immediately. I found this valuable because if I hadn't been able to do it, I'm sure there would have been issues that would have bugged me."
  • "You can ask tutors specific questions about the class that you might not want to ask in open feedback."
  • "It was the best time to reflect on the way I felt about my lesson and why. This meant that I wasn't brooding on it during other people's lessons."
  • "A hot evaluation was a kind of 'friendly listener'; a way to get solutions to what I thought was a problem."
  • "The importance of doing hot evaluations should not be underestimated."

(*The italics are ours. We have highlighted these two sections as we found them of particular interest in respect of the trainee's future professional development.)

Arguments against

Of course, not all respondents were in favour of the scheme. Indeed one assessor who visited at the time expressed the view that the requirement of a hot evaluation meant that the trainee was not attending to the lesson that immediately followed his or hers, but was busy writing. Our view is that most would not be attending anyway, but would be immersed in reflection on their own lesson without the possibility of discussion for an hour or two, or even until the next day. However, we feel the following comments highlight some negative aspects of the system.

  • "I found that usually the thoughts were more exaggerated than when I had had a little longer to reflect"
  • "I don't think that it was entirely necessary to write it down... I got most out of the tutor's evaluation because they could pick up on things that I was completely unaware that I was doing"
  • "Maybe some sort of oral hot feedback would be better. For example the trainee sits with the tutor for 5 minutes and talks about 2 or 3 bullet points instead of the hot evaluation. This approach could be more comprehensive and interactive."
  • "I think that the hot evaluation ended up not being that helpful. The cold evaluation is better because the trainee has a night to think about his/her lesson. I think that one out of the two is all that is necessary. Trying to see your own lesson and its problems clearly directly after the lesson is a challenge"
  • "I can understand the objective but personally I have found that the last thing I want to do after teaching a class is write about what went well and what didn't. Get rid of hot evaluations!!"

Clarity of aims to trainees

  • "I hope it was alright. I thought it was for the tutors not us. But I liked doing them"

This quote from one respondent made us aware of a particularly important consideration: to what extent the trainees are aware of the aims underlying the scheme, and to what extent these aims need to be made transparent. The four questions intended for guidance in writing the hot evaluation (see above) were clearly misinterpreted in the case of this trainee who appears to have interpreted them as some kind of test rubric.

Further developments and conclusion

At a recent trainer meeting on feedback we invited a new teacher to give 'feedback' on feedback. Her comments suggested that the 'hot' evaluation was indeed a good way to get it off your chest, as long as it was informal. A recent change in our TP documentation includes the 'hot' evaluation as part of the work submitted for assessment by Cambridge, ie: it is seen by the assessor and sent to UCLES if requested for further moderation. Her reaction (very visible on her face) was painful to see and she said that she thought that if this were to be officially assessed she would spend far more time writing what she thought the tutor (and Cambridge) would want to read and far less time observing her colleagues teach.

Our conclusions therefore are that an informal 'hot' evaluation is seen as being worthwhile to the majority of trainees. It does not prevent the trainee from observing the lesson following theirs because it is likely that many would not be observing this anyway. Rather the time spent 'getting it off one's chest' and getting some immediate feedback can set the trainees mind to rest and enable them to focus on subsequent lessons. Equally the insights it gives to the tutor are invaluable in determining priorities for discussion. However, by far the most important point that we would like to make is that the 'hot' evaluation is another form of dialogic interaction between trainee and tutor; any such interaction which extends and develops mutual understanding of perhaps very different perspectives must be worthwhile in the continuing development of both tutor and trainees.

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