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Providing Constructive Feedback

Providing Constructive Feedback

Author: Deborah Ash

Provide students with guidelines in order to provide constructive feedback within discussion forums and peer reviews.

When students are engaged in online learning, a flow of feedback takes place in discussions and peer reviews.
“The "give and take" of collaboration can be very invigorating, yet for some it is also somewhat intimidating at first—especially when you are asked to provide constructive criticism to your peers” (DeNatale, 2004). While completing your discussions and peer reviews, keep these things in mind!

Matthews-DeNatale, Gail (2004) TERC and Lesley University (link no longer available).

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Remember feedback is specific rather than general.

Remember that the goal is to improve your work, not to be congratulatory. Be respectful, but also know that if you are too concerned with being "nice," you may cheat your classmate out of valuable feedback and the opportunity to make substantive improvements.

Example: To be told that one is "dominating" will not be as useful as to be told that "in the conversation that just took place, you did not seem to be listening to what I was saying, and I felt forced to accept your arguments.

Feedback focuses on behavior rather than on the person.

Example: Refer to what a person "does" rather than on what you think or imagine s/he "is". You might say that a person "talked more than anyone else in this meeting" rather than that s/he is a "loud-mouth." The former allows for the possibility of change; the latter implies a fixed personality trait.

Feedback requires an awareness of the needs of both the receiver and the giver of feedback.

Feedback can be destructive when it serves only our own needs and fails to take into account needs of the person on the receiving end. Give helpful, not hurtful feedback. Beware of giving feedback because it makes us feel better or gives us a psychological advantage.

Feedback is directed toward behavior which the receiver can do something about.

Frustration is increased when a person is reminded of a shortcoming over which s/he has no control.

Feedback involves sharing of information, rather than giving advice.

Leave a person free to decide for themselves whether or not to act on the information, based on his own goals and needs. Giving advice "tells" the learner what to do.

Feedback involves the amount of information that the receiver can use rather than the amount we would like to give.

Overloading a person with feedback reduces the possibility that s/he may be able to use what is offered. When we give more than can be used, we may really be satisfying some need of our own rather than helping the other person.

Feedback concerns what is said and done, or how it is done, not why.

The "why" takes us from the observable to the inferred and involved assumptions regarding motive or intent. Telling a person what his motivations or intentions are tends to alienate him/her, creating an atmosphere of resentment, suspicion, and distrust. It does NOT contribute to learning or development. It is always dangerous to assume why a person says or does something or to assume what s/he "really" means or is "really" trying to accomplish. If you are uncertain of his/her motives or intent, this uncertainty itself is feedback, however, and should be revealed.

Try to follow these processes when you give feedback to your peers:

First, before doing anything else, look closely at the original assignment, including goals, writing prompt questions, examples, and requested categories of information. Jot this information down on a separate piece of paper and refer to it frequently as you read your classmate's work.

Read your classmate's work several times—first to get an overall sense of the piece, then once again with a critical eye for detail. Take notes during this second reading, writing down: unresolved questions that come to mind, places where further clarification would help, etc.; a response to any requests for feedback made by the author; and ideas for feedback in light of the original assignment. Ideally, you will make a direct connection between your feedback, specific aspects of your classmate's work, and the original assignment's goals, directions, etc.

As you translate your notes into a feedback message for your classmate, begin by commenting on the things you think are good (or improved over earlier drafts), then follow with questions or comments that ask for clarification, offer concerns, or make suggestions based on the goals of the assignment.

Be specific, but don't tell the person what he or she "should" do. Remember that ultimately it is your classmate's work—open-ended questions, observations, and comments will be more constructive than directives on what to do.

Four steps for organizing feedback comments:

Clarify: first ask questions and gather information about things that aren't clear to you.

Value: then state what you like about your classmate's ideas. Identify the connections you see between your classmate's work and the assignment goals.

Offer Concerns: in an open manner, share with your classmate any genuine worries that you have about the work.

Suggest: share with your classmate ideas that might help improve the work. If your classmate shared a dilemma, offer some ideas about it.

Source: Matthews-DeNatale, Gail (2004) TERC and Lesley University (link no longer active)

Tips for Receiving Feedback

Think about what kinds of feedback you would like to get from your classmates. Let them know in advance what you'd like them to comment on —be as specific as possible. 

After you get the feedback, take time and mull it over—comments that you may not like at first will perhaps seem right on target after you've had time to think it over.

Remember that, in the words of instructional designer Larry Porter, "Feedback does not assume that the giver is totally right and the receiver wrong; instead, it is an invitation to interaction." Ask your classmates for further clarification if you're not sure what they mean, brainstorm ideas with them, debate the pros and cons of your ideas for revisions.

Remember that feedback is a gift from the sender to you. We all know how long it takes to read and respond thoughtfully to group members. Even if you don't agree with (or like) the feedback, try to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. 

It's sometimes scary to get feedback, but if you keep an open mind to the constructive criticism and use it to improve your work, you will discover increased confidence and enthusiasm.

Source: Matthews-DeNatale, Gail (2004) TERC and Lesley University (link no longer active)