The Feelings Part of Feedback

I read a great quote today as retweeted on Twitter, it was from @IssaRae,   “I didn’t become a morning person until I started doing what I loved”.  It motivated me to at least start this entry, since it’s been on my mind for a few weeks.

This quote jump started me because the topic swirling around my head has been the recent student survey I’ve been gathering information from and my reaction to the feedback.

About 6 years ago, when I started teaching an online course, we were given this little text box to communicate with the students the mark on an assignment and some comments. We were also instructed to make a copy of the assignment and mark on it so students could see corrections and/or suggestions. Soon, I was leaving audio remarks. Then one day, I was introduced to “Grader” which meant I could videotape myself speaking to the student and upload right to their dropbox.

After typing out way too long comments, hearing my voice, and then seeing myself explain the reasoning of the student’s mark, I stopped marking that way. At that time, I was teaching a grade 12 course and I realized that me pointing out where a capital letter should be or why you don’t always have to list things as first, second, third, isn’t what the student wants to hear.

I didn’t see these students face to face, they did the bulk of the learning by themselves. In a regular class, I might have more opportunity to point out grammar and mechanics, but in this scenario, I didn’t feel it was helping.

What I chose to do instead was tell them about the content of their ideas, what would probably be expected of them next year in college and university, and how to approach a topic. Of course I’d throw in a general statement about “commas” but I really felt advising them how to get where they want to be was more important about telling them where they already were. (much like in hockey or basketball – don’t pass to where the person is NOW, pass it to them where they will be)

So I started talking to the student and not just into the camera. I was pleasantly surprised by students actually wanting to communicate with me. Typically, I uploaded a mark and never heard a thing. When I started going beyond the red circle correcting, I opened a dialogue.  This was far more meaningful, and I daresay helpful, to the students who wanted to get better and not just pass.

Why am I telling you this story? The feelings of feedback. I understand we need constructive criticism. I needed it more than most in my first year in a new job with few people that already know this job. I needed to rely on my students who are most affected by this role.

It hurt.

So I gathered up my ego and went to the task of finding out ways to improve my performance. I wanted more than “red circles” on the page. I felt that I didn’t need to be reminded of what didn’t work; I was there, I know.  I truly understood what it was like to get my paper back and see it covered in corrections of the same mistake.

I also read suggestions that had me baffled. When a student asks for something to happen, which I had offered (or their school already offers) what am I to do with that information? Either they didn’t pay attention or I didn’t communicate well enough. I was hurt because this survey is seen by others and I didn’t want to be remembered as not doing something because a few students couldn’t be bothered to look and ask before commenting.

And of course, there were legitimate suggestions that were good ideas and could be implemented.  A few seem to be teachers in the making, because they started with a positive comment, and then got to the nitty gritty of helpful suggestion.

It truly is easy to give meaningless or hurtful critique from a keyboard. Feedback is often taught by teachers to their students, even in terms of “peer edit/marking” I know I’ve even said to students, “You don’t say it sucked. Help them with an idea, get them back on track, ask them to explain what they mean. IDK does not help!”

It reminded me of the story above. With an online course, not meeting the teacher, and simple written responses might have seem meaningless or hurtful to my students. Maybe it seemed like I didn’t care. Maybe it didn’t make it seem like someone “real” was behind the course, which is why I stopped typing and started talking. I felt that way reading my feedback.

Maybe that survey was too cold. Maybe face to face groups would make it seem like I was really listening and cared what they had to say. Maybe I could explain more about what I need to know rather than rehash what I already know.

My point is feedback elicits an emotional response. “The feelings part of feedback” forces me to remember that the person on the other side has feelings.  While the truth is necessary, perhaps I can remember and continue to practice empathy. I shouldn’t give commentary robotically when my students aren’t robots. And, as I was feeling sorry for myself, remember that my students were answering my data driven questions with data driven answers.

As to the quote at the beginning, I do get up everyday looking forward to work, because I’m much happier and love what I do.  I’ll stop short of saying I’m a morning person because for me, doing what you love can make you happy anytime, anywhere. But for the sake of everyone else, I hope you are a morning person!

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