Thursday, November 1, 2018

Why We Suck At Giving And Receiving Feedback

Back in school, there was a day in the year where our parents were invited to meet our teacher and collect our report cards. It was called 'Report Card' Day.

I used to dread it, and thought it was stupid. What do my teachers really know about me? What's the point of generic truistic advice like "Your son needs to be more hard-working"?

Now that I'm sitting on the side as a teacher, I've changed my mind. I look forward to it, and I think it's brilliant.

Feedback is one of the most effective learning tools.

It only fails when the teacher or student is dreadful and stupid (or both at once).

You want 'feedback'? Here's some feedback, punks!

Why Teachers Suck At Giving Feedback

Some teachers are horrible at giving feedback.

Our common mistakes include:
  • Not knowing the students well enough ("So Sandra, you really struggle in... Oh, sorry, I mean, Sarah...")
  • Stating the obvious ("You got an B in 'Tort', you need to read up more on 'Tort')
  • Rambling of with 101 advice without any indication of importance ("So, number 15, you need to be more polite when you talk to teachers...")
  • Giving subjective advice that's purely a matter of taste ("You need to smile more")
  • Giving purely self-serving advice to make themselves feel good ("So, number 15, you need to be more polite when you talk to teachers...")
  • Giving trivial advice ("Look at me when I'm talking to you, stop writing and playing with your phone.")
  • Giving contradictory advice ("Why are you not taking down notes? Is what I'm saying not important?")
  • Assuming that they're always in the right ("That's wrong, what you wrote in your answer is just plain wrong, there's no such thing as...")
  • Not admitting when they're proven to be wrong ("The case you sent me, that's just one case, there's still no such as...")
  • Feeling intimidated by other teachers ("Oh, am I grading you, or is it Mr. Snape? Yes, so you know who to listen to...")
  • Assuming that their subject is the most important in the universe ("I don't care if you have 2 or even 10 assignments that week, you should've studied for my test...")
  • Treating their word as the gospel truth ("If only you listened to my lectures carefully, you would've gotten an 'A'")

Why Students Suck At Receiving Feedback

Now, now. Don't be so smug, students. You're not without faults, either.

Your common mistakes include:
  • Only wanting to know answers, not understand concepts ("So what is the right answer to Question 25?")
  • Expecting teachers to show them shortcuts ("What's the best book to read up on the subject?") 
  • Expecting teachers to give them tips ("What are the most important chapters to read up on this subject?")
  • Expecting teachers to guarantee their success ("So if I cover just these chapters, I'll be able to score an 'A'?")
  • Holding teachers responsible for their own failures ("But you didn't really touch on Chapter 5 in lecture, so we didn't think it was important for exams!")
  • Taking advice out of context ("You told us to be polite, so we didn't dare speak out too much during tutorials.")
  • Expecting teachers to justify every grading detail ("My friend answer same as me but got 1 mark higher, bow come like that?")
  • Reading too much into results ("I won the 'Best Mooter' award, I'll be an excellent litigation counsel!")
  • Listening to only the good parts ("We'll continue to maintain our research standard!")
  • Ignoring the bad parts ("Our presentation skills are not so strong, but it's okay, our research can cover for it.") 
  • Taking things personal ("You're always picking on me, since Day One")
  • Constantly comparing yourself to other students ("You're always smiling when she answers, but you're super tough on the rest of us.")

You want 'compliments'? Okay, so, um, well... ah, f**k it, I'm out...
Filtering The Feedback Flow

Yes, there are some teachers who are just mean and spiteful, and some students are just deaf and stubborn. The feedback flow is not without flaws.

As teachers, not all our feedback will be warmly received. And as students, not all feedback should be treated seriously. Filtering is part of the feedback flow.

Ultimately, we should always keep an open, objective mind when giving or receiving feedback.

So let the feedback flow, freely but filtered.


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