It’s been a while since we heard from the Student up the Back on the Left – the alter ego of RMIT teaching and learning advisor Ruth Mueller (who actually taught me how to teach, long ago). This time the Student up the Back on the Left has a few words to say about the feedback you gave them on their essay last semester.
Come to think about it – this student has good advice for your supervisor too… if yours seems to be struggling, add this one to the photocopy you made of the other post from the Research Supervisor’s friend
Hi, its me again, the Student from up the back on the left, I am writing to you this time because I want to talk to you about the feedback I get on my assignments.
Before I start though, I would like to say how happy I was to receive your positive response to my last post, that fact that you now start on time rather than waiting for “just a few more people” has been greatly appreciated by those of us who manage to get there on time. The other thing was using those daggy, but useful name plates, now I actually know the name of those in my tute and don’t have to pretend I do.
Now to the thing I want to talk to you about this time. I have recently received my essay back and I have to say, ”Not happy!”. A mark/grade, a couple of comments like “so?” and “good” and then we move on to the next thing, what am I supposed to do with that?
I am guessing that feedback is supposed to like food, providing me with sustenance and nutrition, letting me know how I am going (sustenance) and give me some ideas for next time (nutrition). Having been a student for a while, I have some observations on the feedback diets that are around and some ideas, you could even call it ‘feedback’’ that could help you for next time.
Top 5 Feedback diets
Poor quality, not sustaining, you want something else 10 minutes after you have eaten. Here I have experienced two options: the short, sharp “Credit. Good!*” or the pages covered in tutor scrawl that, although plentiful, is overwhelming and unfocussed. What am I supposed to do with that?
I need meaningful comments and suggestions that can I can implement. A way you can do this is, as a summary, identify three positive aspects and 2 suggestions for improvement – this would be both sustaining and nutritious.
*Note: I have been told – never having experienced it myself – that “HD Well done” is equally frustrating as it doesn’t say what was good, so how do I know what I have done right and how I can improve/extend? –HD students like to know this stuff. Apparently.
High protein/low carb
Focus on one thing, and limit or totally eliminate the other. This is the type of feedback that is either totally positive or overwhelmingly negative. I have had both and although warming to the soul, feedback that solely focuses on the positive, doesn’t tell me how I can improve, or develop for next time. Yes it’s nice but I need something I can use, not just warm strokes.
As for totally negative… do you know how demoralising it is, and how hard it is to know where to start to improve things? Balance, like in all things is the key here. See above.
Abit of everything. I have had work returned that looks like a graffitied train, lots of comments, ticks, crosses question marks, but then what? I am sure you are trying to be helpful, showing interest in my work, that you have engaged with the whole lot, I appreciate that, but it is overwhelming and confusing. I even have a friend who finds it offensive that you are ‘defacing’ their work (something to think about).
My suggestion here is clarity, what are the key things you are trying to tell me – and please present them in a way I can appreciate.
Controlled portions. This isn’t bad, but it is about control and limitations and is best characterised by the use of “tick and flick” sheets, rubrics and other tools that give precise but limited information.
I know when you have 200 students this mode makes sense but it is limiting and as a diet, I am not going to thrive. The key to this feedback diet is well structured and balanced ingredients: meaningful criteria and clear grade descriptions. Theses let me know what is required and the standard. This then allows me to focus on the important things and not try to anticipate what is required, and potentially guess wrong
Some ideas to add spice to this diet are: a space for individualised comments at the end, discussing feedback in class. You could get me to clarify the comments with a partner and then general discussion, or provide a summary of positives and areas for improvement that is discussed with the whole class to help for next time.
Well balanced, fresh and diverse. As we know, this is the type of diet that we should all aim for and in terms of feeding students, it provides me with what I need to thrive.
Well balanced in terms of looking at the whole work and not focussing on certain elements or pet issues. Fresh can mean timely feedback but it could also mean informal feedback, as I go along, not just at the end, when mistakes and poor practice can be imbedded. Diverse isn’t just about what is commented on but who does the commenting. I know some tutors use peer feedback, we can review and comment on each other’s work, helps us to grow as we have to apply what we’ve learnt. It could also mean reflection, feedback on my own work and learning.
Finally, a couple of final points on the feedback diet:
I was telling a fellow student about this post and she (Amie from #shutupandwrite) offered the idea of ‘cravings’. As a PhD student, when she meets with her supervisor, sometimes she wants to focus on a particular aspect, but her supervisor wants to look at something else and this leads to a level of frustration. Sometimes we want just one thing to satisfy us, not a healthy option. When there is a craving for chocolate, a salad will not suffice! The same with feedback, when I am focussed on analysing my data, commenting on the layout is not helpful; we can come back to that another day.
Here I’m not talking about ‘roids’ but taking supplements to address nutrition deficiencies. In our work this could be where to get advice on referencing, help with my grammar, technical support eg (lynda.com). This means that as a tutor, you encourage us to seek specialist advice on particular issues. As with vitamins, we don’t all need to take them but they have their place in helping with address individual deficits.
Well hopefully I have followed my own advice, been balanced, specific and constructive.
I look forward to talk to you again,
The Student up the Back, on the Left