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Published on:

17th Nov 2021

Is Your Feedback Helping or Hurting?

Hear it Here - http://bit.ly/effectiveteachingstevenson

03:15 How To Give Feedback


It’s imperative to think about the feedback you need to give and how to give constructively.


08:20 Educating is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and once parents were stuck at home, educating their children through the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, they began to realize just exactly how hard it really is.


09:45 Find something your student does well and praise them. You just might be the only person who has done so.


11:00 As educators, it’s okay to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but bite your tongue and cap your pen. Don’t say something you will live to regret. If there is no positive purpose to your words, there is no point in sharing them.


11:15 How to Improve Giving Feedback.

Though it can be quite difficult, don’t compare learners. Students are individuals, so make sure you treat them as such.


12:10 It’s not enough to say “you did a great job” or “that was good.” You need to be specific when you give feedback, whether positive or negative. When you give feedback, you want to let others know how to move forward.


13:20 Don’t focus on natural ability: While this advice seems counterintuitive, hear me out on it. Provide your student with clear directives for what it takes to more forward toward their goals.


And don’t forget to give your students high expectation and praise when it is earned.

All students are worthy of praise, and even the worst are not to be subject to cruelty.

#AdultLearners #BeSpecific #ClassroomManagementTool #ClearDirectives #ConstructiveFeedback #DirectAction #EducationalGoal #EffectiveTeaching #Feedback #GenuinePraise #GunnarGunStevensona #GunnarStevenson #IntrinsicMotivation #LearningDisability #MentalFortitude #NaturalAbility #NegativeBehavior #ProblemStudents #RussellNewton #NewtonMG #TheArtofEffectiveTeaching


Transcript

In the small European village where I’m from, I was good friends with a boy a few years older than me. His name was Tomasz, and he was a gifted artist. His parents owned a farm, but they saved up their money, and when Tomasz graduated from our local school, his parents sent him to art school in the city. Tomasz came home around the holidays to help around the farm wherever he could, but mostly he talked about his art classes and how much he loved being in the city. He returned to school for the spring term, and I was happy for him. I thought he was on his way to becoming the artist he’d always dreamt of, that his paintings and sculptures would be shown in galleries one day.

One night in March of that year something happened. I had been out late on a date, and I saw the headlights on the old farm truck Tomasz’s father drove bumping down the dirt road between our farms. I heard yelling because the windows on the truck were open. Tomasz was in the truck, shouting that he would never return to school. His father shouted back that he would because of what he and Tomasz’s mother had sacrificed to nurture their son’s talent.

The next morning, I went to visit my friend and find out why he’d returned home so abruptly and why he refused to go back. When I went down the hall to Tomasz’s bedroom, I saw his bags open on the floor while he sat at his desk, looking over a painting with a note attached. I called out to my friend in greeting, but when he turned to face me, he ripped the painting in half and stormed past me, stating he had work to get to on the farm.

I walked into Tomasz’s room and picked up the painting and note from the floor. The note was a harsh critique of my friend’s work in red ink:

Tomasz, you’ve peaked! You call this art?

A child coloring could have done better.

There is no vision here, none at all.

Whatever potential you had is gone.

I was shocked by the content of that note. I remember it vividly even to this day. It was unbelievably harsh, and my friend, who was all of eighteen years old, took those words to heart. Tomasz did not produce art again for another thirty years, not until after the deaths of both of his parents. He felt he had let them down and was an utter disappointment to them, that he would never achieve his goals or the dreams his parents had for him.

The painting was beautiful to me, though I don’t know much about art. Maybe it didn’t meet the artistic level the instructor wanted, but that feedback committed an unforgivable sin as far as I was concerned. This “teacher” had taken a raw talent and a passion to learn and snuffed them both out like they were nothing. Tomasz’s story is a cautionary tale, and one I’ve always tried to keep in mind when working with others. This doesn’t mean you don’t tell others the hard truth about what they need to hear. It means you need to learn how to give feedback constructively, so students know what they do well and where they need to put in extra work. That is where we are going to spend our focus in this chapter.

How to Give Feedback

I think it goes without saying that Tomasz’s art teacher did an extremely poor job at giving feedback. Perhaps that instructor had an off day, but if that’s how he or she gave feedback on a regular basis, I cannot imagine how that person went on to have a successful career as an academic. If she was ripping students to shreds like she did to Tomasz, how many were likely to have stayed under her tutelage, and how many didn’t fiercely return the favor during faculty evaluations? Was any of it even meant to improve performance anyway, or was it just some twisted form of academic bullying?

It’s imperative to think about the feedback you need to give and how to give constructively. You won’t always be able to say positive things about your students’ work, their behavior, or their work ethic, but you can communicate effectively and with kindness.

Your feedback should have an educational goal. Let’s consider the experience of Nina. She was a department chair in the English department and her specialty was creative writing, though she often taught a class here and there as needed in her department. Because she was so busy with administrative duties, she was highly selective about the doctoral students she accepted as advisees.

One day I was meeting her for lunch at the faculty club and she had a big smile on her face. When I asked her what she was so thrilled about, she replied she had just finished reading a short story by one of her students, and it was the most disgusting thing she’d ever read. Taken aback, I asked why she was so happy about that. It turns out she’d been working with the student for a while on finding his voice as author, and while the genre he preferred, gruesome and gore-filled horror, wasn’t Nina’s favorite, that student had finally found his author’s voice.

Despite the fact Nina didn’t personally like what this student wrote, she strived to help the aspiring Stephen King to improve his skill in order to benefit his craft. Her goal was always to boost the quality of what the student produced and not transform his work by forcing him into a box of what she found tasteful.

One way you can do what Nina did is to ask questions. What is possible for the student to achieve? What isn’t possible? How can I help this student improve to reach the top of his or her personal abilities? If you want a student in math class today to subtract by borrowing from the tens column or add by carrying the two, you are going to have a major problem. Children don’t learn math in that way anymore. The “new math” is what students learn. They not only don’t know “old-school” math, but they also have to show their work using new methods. So if you’re a parent to a kid who is learning online due to COVID and you’re fighting with your child over math because your child is confused about all this borrowing and carrying, you need to make sure to ask if your feedback is helping or hindering learning.

Teach students how to give peer-led feedback. Your opinions and thoughts aren’t the only ones that matter. If you’ve done your job well, and I trust you have, then those you’ve educated have excellent minds fully capable of forming thoughts and opinions and providing constructive feedback too. Allow students to work in pairs or peer groups where they can share their work or explain how they reasoned their response. The goal here is to allow students to provide one another with differing points of view and perspectives, and help teach them the nature of giving constructive feedback as well.

Another strategy you can utilize is to the art of good note making. There are a number of different ways to implements this, such as utilizing sticky notes, like Post-Its, which can be good for providing individualized feedback that is both positive and critical. Instead of calling out Jack for his negative behavior, you can walk by his seat, casually placing a sticky note on his desk as a reminder not to shout out across the room. During my observations, I found this method particularly effective as a classroom management tool as teens didn’t relish the idea of being called out and reprimanded in front of their peers. The teachers who used sticky notes to discipline also used them for applauding good behavior, so it was unclear what the note said and if it was congratulatory or not. However, students have reported that even writing feedback in a pen color other than red makes it easier to read and process it because they automatically associate red ink as negative and authoritarian.

More than anything, give those you educate genuine praise. No one is all bad. Educating is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and once parents were stuck at home, educating their children through the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, they began to realize just exactly how hard it really is. Some of that is because they aren’t trained educators, and many of parents are juggling working from home at the same time their eight-year-old needs help in their Zoom class, and their three-year-old wants a snack. This pandemic has taught all of us that teaching is challenging position. I was pleased to see many parents acknowledging that for the first time. I didn’t see quite so many Facebook grumbles about school supply lists this year.

I also hope many educators know that there is something positive to be said about every single person they educate. Yes, some students are frustrating and a pain in the butt, but they have positive qualities. You can find something nice to say about any learner. Perhaps that student who shows up to your chemistry class is loud and spastic because she’s nervous, but she’s always early and eager to learn and stays late to make sure the class is properly cleaned so you don’t get stuck there doing all that heavy-duty work yourself. Maybe Lily in your fourth period English class has a bad attitude, but she writes beautiful poetry, and you can help her nurture that skill. Find something your student does well and praise them. You just might be the only person who has done so.

My wife was not brought up in a loving home, I’m sad to say. Her brother was often called stupid and “retarded,” for lack of a better word, by her parents. He struggled in school and regularly brought home bad grades. He was told on a regular basis that he was too dumb to achieve anything in life and that he wouldn’t amount to anything. When he was in high school, my wife’s brother was tested for dyslexia and he was diagnosed with a learning disability. Instead of rallying around their son and helping him get the support he needed to finish his education, they responded by throwing their hands in the air and proclaiming that at least they now knew why he was so stupid.

When my wife told me this story about her brother, it reminded me so much of the cruelty Tomasz had endured as a young art student. I could not even imagine the pain of what it must feel like to receive that kind of criticism and verbal abuse from those who are at a minimum supposed to protect and love you. As educators, it’s okay to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but bite your tongue and cap your pen. Don’t say something you will live to regret. If there is no positive purpose to your words, there is no point in sharing them.

How to Improve Giving Feedback.

Don’t Compare Learners.

Though it can be quite difficult, don’t compare learners. It’s simply not fair to them. Students should receive feedback based on their own progress and development. It’s important to remember that learners exist on a spectrum; some will be at the top and some at the bottom and a whole bunch in between. If you are constantly comparing a student at the bottom of the spectrum to a student at the top, that student isn’t likely to ever meet your expectations. But if you compare that student’s progress and growth over time, you may find that he has increased his comprehension skills by 50 percent. Isn’t that something praiseworthy? Students are individuals, so make sure you treat them as such.

Be Specific.

It’s not enough to say “you did a great job” or “that was good.” You need to be specific when you give feedback, whether positive or negative. If you’re teaching a ballet class, you might say, “The way you performed your pirouettes in class today was excellent. Keep up the good work.” Another example is, “Your plies weren’t in proper form today. You need to practice them more.” Those comments both provide specific feedback about what the student did or did not do well.

Give Specific Action.

When you give feedback, you want to let others know how to move forward. In the example above, we tell our student to either “keep up the good work” or “practice more.” Depending on what we teach, this could be any type of directive. Let’s think of a few…

Take clear notes.

Keep a diary.

Work on your creative writing.

Practice differential equations.

Partner up and practice speaking only in French.

Each of these gives a direct action to help the learner improve in some way.

Don’t focus on natural ability: While this advice seems counterintuitive, hear me out on it. Research has found that when educators give praise based on effort over smarts, students recognize that as intrinsic motivation. This creates a blueprint their brains will follow in the future. The type of feedback a learner receives shapes the kind of feedback they look to receive about themselves. The majority of students who receive praise for effort ask about how their peers perform in comparison to themselves, while those who do not receive this type of feedback generally ask about how they can improve their own performance. So focus on the process of learning, as it’s more likely to feed a drive to yield results.

Improvement takes time. Provide your student with clear directives for what it takes to more forward toward their goals. Remember, some students will take baby steps while others will make leaps and bounds, and that’s okay. If a student makes an error, help them back up and get back on track. Correct quickly, quietly, and with compassion. And don’t forget to give your students high expectation and praise when it is earned.

All students are worthy of praise, and even the worst are not to be subject to cruelty. In our final chapter we are going to talk about working with difficult students. Some students are more challenging than others, and not all of us are prepared or have the resources to handle them.

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Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler
You know that guy that reads all the time, and always has a book recommendation for you?

Well, I read and/or produce hundreds of audiobooks a year, and when I read one that has good material, I feature it here. This is my Recommended Listening list. These choices are not influenced by authors or sponsors, just books worthy of your consideration.

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