Preparing students for group member evaluation – part 2 – teaching constructive feedback

This is the 4th post in a series titled ‘All Things Group Work’. The home page is here.

Teaching constructive feedback skills

The writing of comments encourages the evaluator to contextualise the responses indicated in the rubric. That is why comments should be incorporated into group member evaluation. Ideally, students would provide an overall comment that focuses on areas to improve and if applicable, an overall comment that identifies areas of strength. The perfect accompaniment to the comments would be a reflective journal assessment asking students to discuss the feedback they received. See more about this here.

However, writing constructive feedback requires great skill. This is because it needs both the careful analysis of the activity being reviewed as well as the ability to express the evaluation of the analysis in a sensitive and useful manner.

Experienced educators are well aware of the need to be selective with language to prevent students’ motivation from being negatively impacted. Students however would be less practised in this practice, and so require opportunities to develop it.

It is worth approaching constructive feedback through the lens of industry, as it is indeed an important function of real-world team processes. As such, resources that you use to illustrate best practices can be from industry, such as the video below from LinkedIn Learning.

5 constructive feedback skills

Feedback culture – oftenpeople are scared of giving feedback thinking it will hurt the feelings of others. By discussing the benefits of feedback and arming students with tools to do it well, you create a culture of feedback. Initially, it may be of use for students to use the prompt, ‘I am offering this feedback with the best of intentions’ at the beginning of any feedback they give. This may immediately preface that what is going to be said is attempting to be objective. By doing so, the act of giving feedback is open to feedback, and therefore provides an opportunity for all to get better at it.

Objectivity – when feedback is personal, people tend to become defensive. Feedback that addresses opinions or feelings or places value statements on the person is less effective than feedback that discusses facts and behaviours. Tiffany Bowles, Director of Redkite Leadership, suggests that feedback that says, ‘this is what you did, this is what you said and this is the impact it had and this is what I’d prefer’, is far better than telling someone they are ‘lazy, difficult, unprofessional, and they don’t care about the effect on the team when the report is handed in late’.

It is much easier to hear feedback about behaviours, which is ‘the report you wrote was late.’ That’s a fact. It’s evidence. It’s not criticising. It is stating a fact. ‘As a result, we had to stay late to deal with the extra pieces of work that were required.’ Again, it’s a fact. You’re not putting any judgement, you’re not putting any label, you’re not putting any emotion on it. ‘And in future, I’d rather you let us know if you’re going to be late so that we can accommodate that.

Tiffany Bowles

The other advantage of being objective in your words is that the tone of voice tends to be less emotive. Providing students with multiple examples of the style and tone of writing constructive feedback will give them a base from which they can generate feedback.

Perspective – the fact is that because it is a difficult skill, feedback can go wrong, despite the best of intentions. Perhaps then the first thing to teach students is that they should always conder the motivation for the feedback before getting emotionally caught up in it. This is the case for both positive and negative feedback. Tell students to look through the eyes of a manager or team members or peers. What motivations do they have for the feedback? Are the motivations valid? If so, does it alter the validity of the feedback? If negative, does it mitigate any resistance?

Strengths – in the ‘How to effectively deliver criticism’ video below, they suggest that the first bit of feedback should be to identify and state what the feedback receiver’s purpose was: ‘Am I right in saying that you were trying to achieve ….?’, and then identify any strengths the person has demonstrated. Everyone likes to hear positive affirmations, but what this will do is help lead into the more difficult ‘things to improve’ conversation.

Identifying solutions – offering a solution to the skill gap identified in the feedback suggests that you are interested in growth, and if delivered in a pleasant tone, is more likely to be received in that way too. When students identify areas of growth in their feedback, they will only be able to point to resources that address the skill gap if they are aware of them. Curating a set of resources before the group tasks begin that are accessible on the LMS would be a useful thing to do.

 The LinkedIn Learning video won’t display on this site, but you can find it here. The video could be embedded into a tutorial preparation page or shown and discussed in a tutorial prior to the learning about constructive feedback activity taking place.  

In the next post, I discuss how a reflection assessment can be an excellent way to develop constructive feedback skills.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger or on LinkedIn

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