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The thorns and flowers of feedback

Posted on: September 25, 2016

Facilitating a course at a university means there are assignments to grade and provide feedback on.

The assignments I grade are cumulative — #1 is the foundation of #2 which leads to #3 — so they increase in complexity. They take longer to process too.

However, some semesters are interrupted by breaks and holidays so that a cohort is effectively divided into two. This was one of them. Two batches were separated by about two weeks, so the teaching and grading got a bit confusing.

Some weeks ago I was facilitating module 1 for two classes and module 3 for another set. The facilitators also swop classes so we get to see almost everyone, but this might be confusing for the learners as well.

This week I also have assignments crossing lanes and piling up because of that.

Educators worth their salt know how important it is to give timely feedback, so our group of facilitators gave itself a rough target of a week between electronic submission and electronic markup plus feedback.

Any educator honest enough will also tell you how easy it is to get worked up while doing some serious grading. So it was nice to receive and recall some bouquets out of the blue. For example, one email query ended with a bouquet like this:

Email bouquet.

At the end of my sessions, I use the one-minute paper strategy in Padlet so my learners can express what they will take away. I give them the option of leaving feedback as well. Here are a few from the semester so far:

Padlet one-minute paper.

Padlet one-minute paper.

Padlet one-minute paper.

As I receive these rose petals, I am aware that the feedback that I provide might look like thorns.

I make the effort to highlight what is good about what I read in the assignments. After all, if positive feedback feels good and energises me, it will do the same to my learners. However, there are two things I watch out for.

One, if the feedback is positive but not specific, it might have a feel good factor but it goes nowhere. Two, the positive feedback must be deserving, not given for its own sake.

Every rose has its thorns. If you are going to pick roses, be prepare to get pricked. My feedback might feel thorny, but I am being cruel to be kind. If I do not highlight mistakes now, my learners will carry them forward and accumulate them.

As my learners’ final assessment is performance-based, I chose to be strict with their drafts and “scripts”. Better to hear the tough words and listen to the unpleasant music now than to be booed on stage later when it matters.

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