People crave positive feedback and it transforms their attitude and actions. A simple, encouraging word can change a person’s entire outlook and perspective. This applies to any age person - from a three year old, to a middle schooler, to an adult - because it is a basic truth rooted in the way God made us.
Angela Maiers makes an amazing case for the power of praise in her Ted Talk called “You Matter” which has sparked a movement and a hashtag #youmatter. If you haven't seen it yet, it is worth 20 minutes of your time!
Washburn calls his approach to providing feedback “coaching” because it truly allows the focus to be on uplifting the student writer. This style of conferring is student-centered with authentic praise as a key component. He provides a specific cycle of steps for each “coaching session” that helps to maximize the writer's strengths and provide them positive feedback and practical steps to help them improve. It helped me establish a new way of encouraging students in their writing, rather than just reinforcing their mistakes.
Negative feedback can be detrimental to a learner. Yet, it is often all that students will receive from their teachers. Or all they receive is a bad grade without any notation as to the reason behind the score. After years of being told they are doing it all wrong, most students accept that they will never be good at anything. Writing is the perfect example. Every year I have students who enter my classroom and tell me “I am not a good writer.” And every year I strive to help them change their pre-established fixed mindsets. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset transformed my own resolve to help students see they had amazing potential because the reality is that they can all be good writers - but that starts with a mindset change.
Positive feedback is the key to transforming a mindset because it provides a surge of energy. When a student sees that he is excelling in an area, even if it is just in a small way, he see the fruit of his labors, and - hopefully - will work harder to continue to improve. The teacher (or coach) plays a vital role in revitalizing this learner’s mindset. It takes another person holding up a mirror so that the learner can realize his capabilities and potential.
The Gordon Ramsay Effect
Providing Positive Feedback
1) Build Relationships
Feedback is always better received by a student when they do not feel threatened or judged. The quickest way to win their trust is to humble yourself and show them that you are still learning too and that you don't know everything. Then, show them that you care about their ideas and opinions, even if they are not in line with what you might do yourself. Allow them to explain their thought process and listen to their concerns.
2) Provide Honest Feedback
Start with authentic praise of elements the learner has done well. Positive feedback doesn't have to be contrived, fake, or untrue feedback. Instead of pointing out mistakes in a negative light, simply point out what they have done so far and praise them for their work. Then, guide them by explaining what they still have left to do.
3) Model How to Improve
Often students respond to feedback with a defeated sense of “but I don’t know how to fix it.” Your job is to model the change and improvement for them. With writing for example, you can’t simply correct comma errors for a student - this helps nothing. But you can take the time to show the student three steps to determine where the comma goes in the sentence and model those steps for them during a conference. Now, when the student goes back to work, she will at least have a task to complete with steps to follow. I love how Gordon Ramsey will often step into the kitchen to cook with the families on Kitchen Nightmares and show them how to improve. He doesn’t just yell and say the food is horrible; he steps in and models for them how to make the food better.
4) Provide Support and Praise
This becomes a cycle. Continue to meet with students to provide additional praise, feedback, and modeling. While we all wish that one instance of teaching or modeling is enough, it never really is. Continue to work with each student and encourage her to continue to craft until she can be truly proud of her work because it meets all the expectations. The more positive reinforcement she receives, the more she will take ownership of her work.
But what if the student is completely off base? I know this is a valid question because I see it so often with students. There are two helpful tips when encouraging this type of student.
1) Focus on one key element for constructive feedback. Still start with providing genuine praise (find something! Anything!) and then give this student one element to improve upon. With each additional conference, you may be able to tackle something else. Don't overwhelm this type of student; he/she will shut down on you!
2) Ask him questions! Instead of telling him what to do, ask this student questions so he can quickly realize himself what he has done wrong or needs to work on. Allow him to reach these insights on his own, and he will be much quicker to embrace the revisions. A rubric is an ideal tool for this. Put it in front of the two of you and ask him if he has met the requirements on the rubric. (The Writer's Stylus course provides amazing rubrics for these types of conversations!)
Try this tomorrow. Change your own mindset in your classroom and opt to offer genuine, positive feedback to students. When you see their faces light up, you will know you are making a difference in their lives!
These are the books that have influenced my thinking on this topic. What have you read on this topic? Please share in the comments!
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Quite Leadership by David Rock
Your Brain at Work by David Rock
Choice Words by Peter H. Johnson
Opening Minds by Peter H. Johnson
Role Reversal by Mark Barnes