Giving Good Feedback

Good feedback...

Is solicited.

Discuss receivers' goals and concerns prior to class. Learn what specific feedback they would like, and whether they would welcome other feedback as well.

Is given in a caring and respectful manner.

Consider how and why you are giving feedback. Is it in the receiver's best interests? Will it help the receiver to build on his/her strengths and to develop his/her potential?

Is descriptive.

Rather than evaluative and describes behaviours you have observed, not your inferences about their causes. Describe your observations, rather than your assumptions. Let the receiver consider the meanings behind the behaviours or invite you to help in this exercise.

Is specific rather than general.

Specific comments help the receiver to learn to replicate positive behaviours and to change ineffective ones. 

It is more helpful to say:

    • "I like the way you personalize your interactions with learners by addressing them by name" (online and face-to-face learning facilitation);
    • "I watched the learners when you asked them to summarize the previous concepts. They looked animated and engaged" (face-to-face learning facilitation);
    • "When you facilitate discussions, I like the way you support learners to resolve their issues themselves." (online and face-to-face learning facilitation);
    • "I noticed learners began to engage in side discussions after 25 minutes of class. (face-to-face) / several learners are silent in the discussion group" (online) What are some strategies you could use to change this?"

    Rather than:

    • "That was great!" (What was "great"? What contributed to its 'greatness'?);
    • "That didn't work well!" (Were the problems, related to content, organization of material or delivery or reasons unrelated to the instructor?);
    • "You don't know what you're doing!" (This comment will not motivate the instructor to improve or enhance his/her self-confidence). 

    Emphasizes strengths.

    Too often we ignore what we do well. Let people know what they are doing well if it is desirable for them to continue doing it.

    Focuses on behaviours that can be changed.

    It is pointless to focus on someone's size or other attributes that cannot be changed. However, "filler" words ("um", "like", "you know") or voices that do not project well, or accents that truly impede understanding, can have negative consequences for learners and can be overcome. An instructor can:

    • Check in with learners to ask if they hear/understand him/her;
    • Use a microphone;
    • Talk less, learn to replace "um" with a pause;
    • Write more during class on a computer, overhead, white/black board, flip chart (this can also help work with learners with different learning styles);
    • Take voice lessons.

    Focuses on something that is relevant to performance.

    Avoid judging the person. Rather, comment on behaviours that can enhance the instructor's ability to facilitate learning effectively.

    Is timely.

    Give feedback as soon as possible after the event.

    Is given frequently and appropriately (time, place, amount of information).

    Avoid the temptation to overload the receiver with feedback. Respect the receiver's need for saving face and ability to process information. This is particularly important to keep in mind when interacting with learners from other cultures whose norms may be different than those of the instructor i.e. what is a tolerable or acceptable correction to a Canadian may not be acceptable to someone from another culture. Also, it is important to remember that we tend to be vulnerable and insecure when learning new things. A positive comment reinforces our value as a human being and allows us to build on our strengths.

    Offers suggestions for change.

    Provide options and ideas for the receiver (to accept or refute) and suggest alternate ways to do things. Avoid confusing providing feedback and demanding change.

    Is expressed in terms of 'more or less', rather than 'either/or' or 'good/bad'.

    Use the continuum method to encourage receivers to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviours by doing them more or less often (e.g., "could you provide learners with more written comments?" or "could you ask more questions that require learners to integrate material they have learned?").

    Reflects the instructor's opinion and can be accepted or refuted.

    When giving feedback, use "I" sentences rather than the accusatory "you" that can elicit defensiveness. Instructors should explain to receivers that they are offering their observations, based on their experience. They can choose to agree or disagree with them.

    Can be given in many different ways

    Verbally, visually, written, through body language and gestures and combinations of the above. Aim to maintain congruence between words and body language.

    Is checked for understanding.

    For example, by asking the receiver to highlight the points that he/she has found helpful.Processing information requires time. If receivers don't have the opportunity to reflect on comments or re-state them, they may forget them.

    Is honest.

    Keep in mind points #2 - "Is given in a caring and respectful manner" and #16 - "Is given to be helpful", and give feedback in a caring manner.

    Is given to be helpful.

    Always consider the reasons for giving feedback. Is the instructor trying to be helpful to the receiver or unloading some of his or her own feelings? Instructors should avoid giving feedback if it is for their benefit rather than that of the receiver.

    Includes sharing instructor's feelings or concerns.

    Instructors must avoid portraying themselves as all knowing. A receiver can often assimilate feedback more effectively if instructors share struggles they have experienced in that area.

    Engages the receiver in a dialogue.

    Give feedback by asking questions, i.e. "what were your learning outcomes for that class?" or "how do you plan to assess learning?" Questions such as these will provide the receiver with opportunities to reflect on the class, and "talk through" effective solutions.