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5 Warning Signs You Are Not Giving Constructive Feedback (And Why It Matters)
Here are 5 warning signs that we may not be using constructive criticism:
1. Using “You” Statements Is Not Constructive Feedback
One of my favourite courses way back in the last year of my first degree was Alternative Dispute Resolution. Actually, that’s the first time I thought about “you” statements. Basically, they are for expressing your concern about someone’s behaviour (or in this case, work), but they start off with “you”, placing blame.
“You did XYZ…”, “When you did XYZ, I felt…” Now, I’m rarely an advocate for using passive voice, but in this case emphasising the subject can make a writer feel belittled and blamed, instead of empowered to create more content. Focus on the content, instead – eliminating negativity and blame.
2. Continually Asking Why Something Is Done
If only you could imagine how many times I’ve received feedback like this! Asking why did you do that? How could you possibly have done that? How could this possibly work?
I don’t understand, or even simple, unqualified statements without clarification like “I don’t get this” harm more than they help. Truly, when we receive this type of feedback, we feel confused if not enraged. Instead, let’s try to give feedback that’s clear, concise and constructive.
I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this example. Could you explain why you’ve included it to help the reader understand?
3. An Angry Tone Is Not Constructive
Next, we need to consider the tone of our comments. Of course, tone is a difficult one to catch over email, word processor tracked changes, or meeting notes. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to consider, though. Take a break from the screen, come back, and read your feedback aloud. How does it sound? How will your students think it sounds? It does a lot of good to read aloud sometimes!
It’s also a good idea to do our best to stay calm when we are correcting work. When students don’t follow instructions, or communication is lost – it’s frustrating. Stepping away for some calm and inner peace and coming back later often helps.
4. A Lack of Suggestions Is Destructive
While this one might be obvious, it’s worth saying. I have, actually, had feedback on my own work that did exactly this. Pointed criticisms without any suggestion or direction as to where to go next are basically useless.
Not only that, they are destructive. They make us feel belittled, unworthy, enraged, and worst of all – demotivated. To encourage our students to do their best, we need to motivate them to reach their goals. Without a little help and some specific suggestions on how they can improve, we’re not really doing them much good. Correcting mistakes is important, but so is giving direction and guiding our mentees.
5. It’s All Negative
Of course, feedback that’s constructive is not all negative. We have to remember to motivate our students to want to the work to improve. If all they hear is negativity, they aren’t likely to feel empowered.
Trust me, this has happened to me recently on a huge project I’m working on. (Let me give you a hint: it’s has a 3-letter acronym). When I read that all the comments were negative, it made me feel worthless and (albeit temporarily), quashed any true motivation I had to finish the project.
How To Give Constructive Feedback (3 Steps)
Okay, so how can we give constructive feedback in an efficient way?
Here are 3 easy steps!:
Step 1: It’s All About the Tone
Step 2: Be Specific About What’s Wrong & Provide Recommendations
Step 3: Provide Potential Solutions (and support!)
In my opinion, providing support is just as important as writing the feedback itself. If students feel supported, they can learn from our feedback and continually become better writers.
With writing, practice definitely helps. However, if your students are like some of mine, it’s not always easy to find essay topics they’ll love, or learn to teach essays in a way that’s fun.
If you’re looking for more teaching activities, be sure to check out my free printables library.
Following Up After Constructive Feedback
So, guess what? Our job is not quite done after we’ve given our students (or clients) constructive feedback. We need to see how they’re doing perhaps a week, month, or even a few months down the line. If they understand our constructive criticism, it may be easy to implement. However, we have to remember that miscommunications happen more often than we’d like.
Actually, I’d suggest sitting down (even if it’s virtually) with your students who need the most help.
- Do they understand the feedback?
- Can they implement a few changes for you to approve before they continue, or before their next assignment?
- If they use the DESC model, can they voice their concerns? Can we, as teachers or coaches?
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