37 Less is More When Giving Feedback

Lindsay Gergits

Writing a paper comes along with its own set of challenges. Before reaching the final product, there are steps that you follow to meet the end goal. For students, you are introduced to the assignment and expected to read a rubric in order to understand all of the requirements. Depending on the rubric, they can be very vague, which leaves the student with an extremely broad spectrum of possibilities when writing the paper. Some students may hit the nail on the head and be on the right track from square one while others may need a bit more guidance. This is where feedback comes into play.

Feedback can be tricky because it is meant to lead students in the right direction but in some instances, it just completely throws the student off track. Let’s say I handed in a paper to get graded and when it comes back to me, it looks like my teacher’s red pen exploded all over my work; that can be super discouraging and overwhelming for the student. What if I worked diligently on that paper and was proud of the work I was able to accomplish? What if I was already having a hectic week and getting that paper finished was one of my last priorities but I was still able to put effort into it? Being in either of those situations and then receiving my work back with a-million-and-one remarks will feel like a slap in the face.

Overloading a student with anything is a foolproof way to make them break down. Excessive amounts of discouraging comments such as “this is wrong, do this instead”, “where were you going with this??” or “here is where you went wrong” only pushes the student into feeling like they failed. Not only that but, corrective statements like the ones previously mentioned don’t give any insight into what he/she did wrong or how they can do better next time. This is why so-called ‘constructive criticism’ is not always a positive thing.

Speaking as a future teacher, there needs to be a way to provide feedback while also encouraging the student and their ability to be creative. Instead of pointing out all of the things the student did wrong, we should focus on areas that could use improvement along with praise for the areas where the student succeeded. In an article on criticism, Melinda Moyer from the New York Times suggested “Giving future-oriented advice feels less critical than giving feedback on past choices”. This route allows the student to actually add your suggestion in a constructive way while also building off the work that they initially had. At the end of the day, as educators, our goal is to help students progress in a positive way- so why doesn’t our feedback reflect that?  If you think about it, it is a lot easier to be receptive to feedback when it’s not all negative. Yes, it is important to highlight areas that need work but, isn’t it just as important to highlight the areas that actually worked?

Perhaps, it is more effective to make feedback more general. Instead of commenting on twelve little things that could have been done differently, comment on one larger part of the paper that would really improve it overall. Not only does this guide the student by pointing them in the right direction but it also doesn’t take away all of their creativity. It allows the student to digest your feedback and see how they can work it into what they already have, rather than changing every other sentence to satisfy you. After all, trial and error is a great way to learn, therefore, allowing a student to make a couple of mistakes along the way is not the worst thing in the world. Feedback is an essential part of learning, but not all of it is productive- that is why less is more when providing feedback.

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Good Ideas About Writing by Lindsay Gergits is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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