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Posts Tagged ‘constructive

Alfie Kohn is not afraid to say what is on his mind and he says it well. The saying makes little sense and is bad advice.

One of the things I remember most about studying in the USA and observing some students and teachers there is how positive they were. They preferred to encourage rather than point out mistakes.

This did not sit well with me then because I was used to direct critique and even unkind criticism. But I understood the rationale for staying on the light side — we do not want to discourage learners who are struggling with new content or experiences.

Educators who blog and tweet their thoughts share a common story set. They tell of how they might receive 99 positive responses and just one negative comment. They dwell or even obsess on the one.

That is not a bad thing if that single comment is fair. That is not a bad thing if it points out a flaw and you try to improve as a result.
 

 
The honey does not only not catch flies, it disguises what is wrong underneath it. Give only praise and learners making mistakes might think there is nothing wrong or nothing to change.

The trick is to provide constructive comments. These invariably come across as tough or even negative. I find that it helps to set learner expectations (I am not going to sugar-coat) and to rationalise (this is why I gave this feedback).

Today I reflect on a section in a written assignment in which my students respond to feedback about improving their work.

One student did not appreciate that I was pointing out only areas of improvement. What I saw as constructive feedback seemed to be viewed by that student as negative and lacking encouragement.

I am all for providing encouragement and acknowledging good work. But I give it only when it is deserving and warranted.

It should be obvious when something is deserves a positive comment. In the context of the assignment, this might be when a student clearly describes a good idea or skilfully outlines a meaningful strategy.

However, it might not be as clear when such feedback is warranted. I only provide it when I think is does not lead a learner to be complacent, i.e., the idea is good enough and does not need improvement.
 

 
I do not encourage for encouragement’s sake. If a student is doing the equivalent of driving towards the end of a cliff, I do not compliment them on how well they drive in a straight line. I tell them to change tactic or course.

It might be easy to label students who depend on positive feedback as snowflakes. I do not. They are products of nurturing. If their teachers before me were only positive and did not occasionally use tough love, they will find what I do unnerving.

But they must learn that life does not operate that way. If I am the first to provide a concrete experience and point this out, then so be it. I will be cruel in order to be kind.


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