Volume VII - 2002-03

Getting Feedback via Transitional Analysis
     by Mario Rinvolucri

          Mario Rinvolucri works for Pilgrims and edits Humanising Language Teaching, Pilgrims ' web 'zine for language teachers which you can find at www. hltmag. co. uk. His next book , Humanising Your Coursebook, comes out with ETpDelta in 2002. His first CDRom was Mindgame, which you can see at

     In my work as a language teacher and teacher trainer, I love collecting thinking frames, or filters, or lens within which or through which I can look at my practice. An example of a frame/filter or lens would be the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) maxim that the map is not the territory. This frame I find very useful in coping with the bizarre ways (bizarre from within my map)other people sometimes react to things I tell them. For example, this morning I told a friend that I had come across a fascinating Chinese proverb: Experience is the comb nature gives the bald. I paused, and then asked Jean what came up for her when she heard the words.

      She said, “Oh I immediately thought of my son and how worried he used to be about going bald!” My first reaction was tinge of annoyance that she had picked on the last word and not of the whole proposition. Then I thought, “Annoyance is no fun; I 'll have more fun if I encourage her to go down the son track. I 'll have more fun exploring the Jean mapping of the words than trying to force her to go where I hoped she would go. ” My self--management inner monologue and communicationally effective conversation strategy came directly from using the NLP maxim as an angle from which to view my friend 's thinking. Entering the world of the other is much more interesting than being stuck in your own.

      A filter I have recently started using is one taken from Eric Berne 's Transactional Analysis, and I have found it very useful for analysing a range of situations as well as for collecting feedback from my classes. The filter consists of examining any situation, system or community in terms of these three variables:


     I said to my class, “Please chose a community you belong to like a chess club, a tennis club, the school where you work, or your family.

      “What kind of structure, explicit and implicit, does this community provide you with? What internal structures have you created within the organisational frame offered by the community? What levels of stimulation does this community provide you with, at an emotional, technical, intellectual or spiritual level? In the presence of the stimuli offered, how much is your own creativity aroused? How much do you stimulate yourself in this context?

      “Coming now to recognition, how much recognition do you receive from superiors in the system, how much from peers and what internal recognition do you offer yourself ? (One of the hallmarks of many depressions, is the sick person 's inability to understand there can be anything good about herself. )It is sad that I am unlikely to ever hear the silent answers you have given to these questions!”

      If I think of my own marriage (38 years)and apply the above filter to it, this is roughly what comes up:


     There is a vast web of routinised structures some of which I know about but many that I guess are below my consciousness threshold. There are structures in time, through the day, routines, sequences, there are mutual aggression patterns, there are discourse patterns, there are set patterns for dealing with the outside world and so on. I suspect that there are plenty gestalten situations that were functional and useful twenty years ago and which are no longer so today, yet we both carry on within them, not properly noticing them.


     Perhaps because my wife is a hugely inward person with hectares of her thought out of range of speech, she continues to surprise and amaze me.

      This onion has more layers than I guessed might be there. Nearly 40 years has been too short to get to the bottom of what she really thinks and feels, the inner scapes she lives in, the melody of her being.


     On the surface we can often say pretty bad things to and about each other, but at a deeper level I respect and love many things about her. I recognise that there is a strong overlap in our belief systems, despite her overt Catholicism and my declarative atheism.

     Re-reading the above analysis, it is clear that the area which is most like an attic that needs unloading into a skip is the area of structure. This is the bit that needs more thought, discussion and then action.

     The usefulness of this type of filter is that it helps you sort what you perceive into manageablecategories and then, maybe, do something practically beneficial about what you find. There are a large number of ways in which you can use this filter in language teaching. I have suggested the frame to business English students and asked them to analyse their department in the light of it. They sometimes find themselves thinking new thoughts because the lighting system offered illuminates the territory in new and
unexpected ways. The fact that sometimes the thinking is new impels them to explore their ability of self-express in English to the limit. I have also introduced the frame halfway through a language or teacher training course and then used it again, on the last day of the course, to help the students/trainees give a stimulating shape to their feedback on the course.

     I give an instruction of this sort: Can you write a few sentences about how this course has been for you in terms of the structure, stimulation and recognition that I and the group have offered you? Can you also think about your own structuring, self-stimulation and self-recognition, please. Will 15 to 20 minutes be enough time?

Comments of Participants

     The rest of this article brings you some of the things that mature, in-set teachers have written at the end of short training courses:

First Speaker: “In my school I 'm afraid there is not enough structure because I always thought that the teacher should have                some sort of freedom … but I am not very happy with it. . About today, I think that stimulation was the strongest part                of the workshop, and I feel that I have experienced so many new ideas today that it makes me feel happier with the                new school year and ready to tell the other teachers a lot of new things and share ideas with them. Thank you very                much for all your support, and for making me feel more relaxed, although it has been a very long day (8 clock hours).”

Second Speaker: “My work in school has been based mostly on structure and acknowledgement, and less on stimulation.               Today I have learnt that stimulation has its share and that is what I have to pay attention to. ”

Third Speaker: '“Regarding stimulation, I feel there has been plenty. Continuous, interesting, effective and motivating activities                made me live the essence of this seminar. There was a lack of structure, as if a topic sentence was never heard when                issues were initiated. This made me relate various elements together, thus getting confused because not everything was                related and to be put under the same umbrella. So, if the change of subject had been clearer from the beginning , I                wouldn 't have lost time and focus trying to understand the relations and connections, thus getting the most out of the                speaker 's words. ”

Fourth Speaker: “My participation in the various practices proposed in the seminar helped me a lot, especially when I was                feeling that the trainer was really interested in my contribution, which he showed clearly with his words and his                behaviours (gestures and voice). Your interest and gentle encouragement help people be themselves, expose their                thoughts, share. ”

Fifth Speaker: “A lightly structured two days in that there was a timetable but that each section of the day was changeable,                although it was obviously structured in the trainer 's head as he clearly led the proceedings. Recognition from peers               and the trainer was slight, except on a few occasions, but this was a great opportunity for self-recognition. Stimulation               on a high level throughout the two days both from the trainer and peers. ”

Sixth Speaker: “The seminar was well structured, and I was able to follow and take notes through the different steps. I was               also given a chance to get up, to communicate and to share ideas. The teacher was able to make me think through               different activities and during this process I was continually thinking of how I can deal with each of my teachers. So               their faces were popping up in my mind. I felt happy with myself that some of these activities and discussion show me               that I do some things round the school in a right way. I also told some of the people around that I liked their ideas, if I               did. ”

My own feedback as trainer:

     Structure has been there in my mind but I have no idea as to how each person has received that attempt at structure and then be able to re-structure it in their own terms.

      I have been aware of warm recognition and found myself both consciously and spontaneously feeling and voicing appreciation for others in the group. The stimulation I have received has been strong but not overwhelming (I do, on occasion, get over-stimulated).

     And so, to conclude, I am aware:

a) That I am a novice in dealing with Eric Berne and T. A. thinking.
b) That I am just beginning to explore the STR/STI/REC frame.
c) That this is more complex structure than I first imagined.
d) That I cannot yet satifactorily break down any of the three variables into their sub-parts.

To do this would pin down and concretise each area.

     If you can help me in any of the above, please e-mail me on mario@pilgrims. co. uk, or weave your thoughts into an article you might wish to contribute to this magazine or to Humanising Language Teaching, to be found at www. hltmag. co. uk, which I edit.

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