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Feedback (Not Criticism) – Thinking Education

Thinking Education

Value of Excellent Feedback

Excellent Feedback is one of the most valuable educational tools at an educator’s disposal. It is also one of the most valuable tools for a writer. As someone involved in both spheres of life (writing and teaching) I have come to see the great quality of feedback. This post focuses on how feedback can and should be delivered. More importantly the post analyses how feedback is distinct from mere criticism.

Types of Feeding Back

A quick browse will show you that there are many types of feedback that exist. Websites are full of possibilities such as 9 Types of Feed back or Four Types of Feed back. But these articles tend to have specific examples of how to deliver feedback, rather than examine the reasoning behind feedback.

Research indicates that feedback can exist as two types of negative and positive. One negative which criticises what you or another person has done, and one negative which critiques future patterns or feedforward. Then one type of positive which critiques the past, and another examining the future.

What Use is Feeding Back Information?

Feedback to students, or fellow writers, or anyone else, requires evidence. The available data and evidence suggests that excellent feedback improves results by up to eight months. And this is because quality feedback is always delivered with a goal in mind. 

You can provide this quality information in a variety of different ways:

  1. Focusing on the individual themselves
  2. About the task or activity
  3. Regarding the process
  4. About the self-regulation of the individual

The above methods of providing this information are organised from least effective to most effective. Providing a learning individual information about what they themselves have done well or poorly is the least effective form of feedback. Mostly because it does not provide an incentive to change or improve.

Information given about the task or activity being undertaken is also very specific to that task. When feedback is provided for the process there is a distinct improvement. Because the process (or elements of the process) will remain the same regardless of the task.

Of course the most effective method of feeding back information focuses on the self. This occurs through promoting that individuals learn to self-regulate. Improvement beyond the task being critiqued occurs when feedback has been provided for people to know how to regulate and improve themselves.

The methods used for feeding back this information can be verbal, written, digitally created (audio, video, presentations) or through a combination of all relevant factors.

So How Should I Give Feedback?

My friend and I created a list of rules on our Discord group. These are rules for providing feedback on story writing. This group is open to anyone who wants to be a serious fantasy writer. You just need to sign up to Discord first. I have provided the link in the text above.

Our list of rules could be boiled down to a few key elements and I am paraphrasing them below. 

  1. Be specific with your feedback and explain the particulars of the feedback. Do not just provide criticism, look to explain why criticism may exist.
  2. Try to think as an audience member. Excellent feedback considers how the audience will receive a piece of work. Eg. ‘How will the audience appreciate this piece of art?’ 
  3. Why not ask a question? Questions can help prompt the person you are giving advice to, directing them to correct errors for themselves.
  4. No unsolicited advice. Don’t tell the person how they must write their story or do their work. Try to prompt them in the right direction and coach them, rather than doing the work for them. Otherwise they will not learn.
  5. Avoid taking offence. Instead give and receive all feedback graciously. Your feedback does not have to be used by the person receiving it, and you do not have to use all feedback you receive.

Excellent Feedback – Not Criticism

Ultimately, delivery is the difference between feedback becoming excellent feedback or criticism. Criticism just comments on the elements in a work of art, method of delivery, or appearances. Excellent feedback goes beyond mere commentary as it is personalised, relevant, and has an empathetic bent. Because this, empathy lifts excellent feedback to such valuable heights. Therefore, all educators, learners, and writers should learn to use excellent and effective feedback to improve their results.

However, excellent feedback by itself becomes irrelevant. Just like any other tool, feedback must be adopted and used. Therefore, the goal of all who receive feedback, must be to also learn how to effectively use this feedback to become even better. With using feedback we can all become better writers, readers, learners, and educators.

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