Giving Feedback that makes a difference

The quotes from this article are from an excellent interview done by Jennifer Gonzalez This would be great required reading at the university!

This past year has been a learning experience for a number of reasons, but learning is not always easy.

For my Ph.D. journey, I think I have come to a crossroad. While the courses have all been successfully done, I am struggling with the next stage. This is a good space to work this out and I have to do this now. Writing is thinking.

I am supposed to be preparing for my comprehensive exams – two 4000-word essays one on research, and one on methodology. But here is the sticking point. I am not sure anymore if I can do this. I have no information that tells me that I can do this.

I know I can write well, but I am not convinced that I can write in an academic style. No one can even tell you what an academic style really is. It is hard to figure this out. So far the feedback has not been good. The people I have been working with struggle to give constructive feedback, but that is not really their problem. This is a different world from what I am used to.

Professors are paid to research and enhance the reputation of the institution. Knowing how to guide new academic writers is not something that has to be in their toolbox. This is a real shame because so much can be learned from carefully crafted feedback. Telling it ‘like it is’ is not always the wisest approach.

What this means is that the graduate student can work in a bit of a vacuum. It is a challenging working relationship.

Elementary and secondary schools used to have the same problem, but so much work has been done over the years to address this. Teachers know how to bring students along, encouraging them to do more and to do better.

This is certainly a skill that needs to be learned. No institution is naturally good at this. While public schools have made constructive feedback an essential skill that educators need to develop, there is less emphasis on acquiring this essential part of teaching at the postsecondary level.

As we give and receive feedback, people get defensive. Feelings get hurt. Too often, the improvements we’re going for don’t happen, because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace.

Cult of Pedagogy – Moving from Feedback to Feedforward

Students who are ok living in this vacuum will succeed. Students who want or need more may not.

At this point, I have to decide if I want to continue here as a student. It is harder to jump through so many imaginary hoops when you have already proven yourself over a long and challenging career.

I choose the positive. I work with people outside the university who get this. As a consequence, I work very hard for them and the effort is appreciated.

This has been a good experience but I want better. A thriving respectful relationship where real learning happens is what excites me.

Maybe I have been looking in the wrong places. My bad.

One of the reasons people don’t make progress after receiving feedback is that they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. “If you want feedback to make an impact,” Hirsch notes, “you have to put it in terms that people can operationalize.” In his book, he cites studies showing that regular feedback doesn’t typically result in a transfer of new skills or habits, but when that feedback is combined with coaching, the transfer skyrockets to 95 percent.

Cult of Pedagogy – Moving from Feedback to Feedforward

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