How To Give Your Students Feedback So They’ll Be Happy To Take It Onboard

Giving feedback is an important part of any supervisor’s job. That’s why it’s important to do it well.

You can give the most useful suggests in the world, but if they’re not given in a constructive manner, they mean nothing simply because your students won’t want to deal with them. The suggestions will also create a lot of tension.

Let’s first cover what feedback is – like most common words, the definition of it is poorly understood – Cambridge dictionary defines it as, “Information or statements of opinion about something, such as a new product, that can tell you if it is successful or liked”.

This definition is incredibly pertinent because the common way that “feedback” is interpreted is simply just a negative critique. BUT, that’s only one part of feedback.

From the definition above, negative critiques do not necessarily tell you how good something was. You might give two pieces of criticism and what you’re critiquing may still be really good. Leaving out the positive stuff makes the feedback lopsided and inaccurate – the person receiving the feedback doesn’t know exactly how good their work is simply because they’re only hearing the negative side.

So, the first thing that needs to be kept in mind when giving feedback is to cover both the good and the bad. The reason why is because it gives the person a much clearer picture of where they stand. If one of these sides is not covered, then the feedback becomes inaccurate.

Make sure to cover, both, what your student did well, what they could improve and how.

Notice that the second part of that last sentence was structured as, “what they could improve and how” and not, simply, “what they could improve”, or even “what they did poorly”? The reason why is because simply telling them what they did poorly doesn’t really help them. For example, I remember a supervisor once telling me, “you need to learn how to do this better” and left it at that. That piece of feedback doesn’t really help me – I know I need to learn how to do it better, the problem is HOW. If I already knew how to get better, then I probably wouldn’t be having this problem. The “how” is integral to feedback.

By adding in the “how” they can do something better, your piece of criticism becomes constructive.

That becomes the second step of providing feedback – you cover the good and bad points, and when it comes to the bad points, make sure to add in how they can improve them. Don’t dwell on the fact that they’re doing these aspects poorly, but focus more on how to fix them. By doing so, your students will not only value your input (because you have valuable insight), but they’ll also be happy to take your feedback onboard because they won’t feel like they’re being attacked. Instead, they’ll feel like they’re being helped.

In addition, by covering both the good and bad points, your students can see that you’re being objective and not trying to make them feel bad. As such, it elevates your interaction to a constructive level.

Takeaway message: Make sure to cover both the good and bad, and provide ways to improve the bad.

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