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Showing My Work: How I Use Feedback and Self-Reflection to Modify My Lessons

By September 23, 2016March 23rd, 20184 Comments

Showing My Work: How I Use Feedback and Self-Reflection to Modify My Lessons

Every Tuesday and Wednesday night, I teach a 4-hour pedagogy class. I use the design thinking cycle to plan the course (a topic for another blog post) and so as I teach, I am in the Highlight and Fix phase. I thought I would give a sneak peak into my process with my Wednesday night class.

I typically go to my office, where I have a giant whiteboard. I often jot notes down during a lesson, ask for student feedback during the one-on-one conferencing, and send out a Google Form just to get a sense of what students are thinking. Then, I dive into the reflection phase. I start with what needs to be improved:


As you can see, that’s a lot. My biggest thing right now is a focus on how I can create more interactive direct instruction by adding more discovery, more processing, and more modeling of the actual process together as a group.

Notice that this is a pretty long list after well over a decade of teaching. But this honest reflection is why I will refine what I do and hopefully teach a better pedagogy course next year. Also notice that some of these are things I can change next week (feedback, warm-ups, movement) while others are structural things I’ll have to do next year (conferencing earlier, changing the course format).

Next, I jot down some notes on what’s working, so that I can build upon that:


These are the things that I plan to build upon. I want to keep the class culture fun and engaging but I also want to give them more of a chance to practice these ideas, brainstorm possibilities, and then teach using the similar format. My dream pedagogy class is still a lab school concept that focuses on design thinking and project-based learning. But for now, it’s still a class.

So, occasionally, this far into the course, I will create a course rewrite based upon feedback:


So, here’s the new idea: I will teach three to four classes (four hours each) with short units modeling a more constructivist, creativity-centered design. Students will deconstruct the framework and brainstorm potential uses. Later, each pair of students will have an entire evening to teach their own mini-unit with one of those frameworks. After students have seen the framework in action with me and with a classmate, they can then create a unit plan of their own and eventually develop a year-long scope and sequence.

In other words, I’m totally taking a new approach next year. And I’m cool with that, because I know that this is a long journey and I’m still pretty new at this professor gig. However, this process of self-reflection used to be hard for me as a teacher, because I hated to admit that things were tanking. I was a perfectionist and it almost led to burnout.

And the thing is, perfectionism is a career-killer in education. You wallow in shame until eventually you walk away. Or, if you stay, you become risk-averse. However, when you can openly admit that you don’t have things figured out yet, you can honestly look at the pros and cons and work on improving your craft as a teacher. But when you think it has to be perfect, you avoid the faults or you fall into a sense of shame and frustration when you screw up.

My guess is that this plan will morph over the next few weeks and I will refine it (or maybe rethink it entirely) next summer when I develop the class.


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Jayme Linton says:

    Thank you for this transparent reflection! Like you, I am continuously gathering feedback on instruction and revising courses. It’s nice to see someone make this process public. I’m wondering if you use Harris and Hofer’s Learning Activity Types to help your students identify effective discipline-specific pedagogies. I’ve found the LATs to be a super useful tool in helping teaching candidates evaluate and apply pedagogies in their disciplines.

  • Katie Martin says:

    I love this! It’s so important to realize we will never be perfect and every year (or day) students are different and we as teachers learn more, so we should continually evolve. I appreciate your open reflection with your students (what a powerful way to model for them how to ask for and use feedback) and how you shared your thoughts on how to improve. Learning is a process and we MUST do a better modeling that for teachers– and while we are at it maybe we can take down the notion of the “perfect lesson plan” too. I just wrote a similar post on feedback I got from my class:).

  • Mya Udell says:

    I really like this article! I think it is very important to take time every year to self reflect. I think it is very beneficial to take time out of the year to look at the different things that you have tried and things that you should try to allow your students to be successful but also allow yourself to be successful teacher.

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