Monday, September 3, 2012

On Feedback

As I suggested in my last two posts, much of my summer learning centered around feedback, spawning learning goals focused on this concept.  I'm excited about how a couple of these ideas have manifested themselves.

Carol Dweck, whose lecture I had the fortune of attending, made me rethink the way I offer students feedback on their learning. Last weekend, I sat down to grade my first set of essays for the 2012-2013 school year--you know school is in session when you're sitting down with sophomore essays on a Saturday night.  In the past, here is what my feedback on one of these essays may have sounded like: 

"Great essay.  You are eloquent and your ideas are organized well.  Consider how providing at least three examples for each point you make can provide a more substantive body of evidence for your argument.  Excellent job with grammar and mechanics." 

Thanks to Dweck, here is how I gave feedback on an essay showing those same qualities this fall:

"You worked hard on this essay.  I can tell you put a lot of effort into your diction as well as into your structure.  (The constructive criticism would remain the same.)  You have challenged yourself to master grammar and mechanics, and it shows." 

Nuanced disparities, yes?  Here is the central difference, however.  In the first comment, I praise the student.  In the second, I praise the student's effort.  Though one may find the difference inconsequential, Dweck suggests that when we attritute a student's success to who he is instead of the effort he puts in, we cultivate a "fixed mindset" in our students, a term Dweck defines as an understanding that one's intelligence is finite as opposed to malleable.  A student comes to learn his successes are the result of who he is, not the effort he puts into his work. 

Conversely, when we suggest to a student his effort toward mastery has created his success, that student understands with increased effort comes increased success, a term Dweck calls a "growth mindset".  In actively cultivating this growth mindset, we teach them that one's success is not a tendency we're born with, but rather something he must work for, giving all students equal opportunity for success.  How powerful.

Thanks for putting in the effort to read this blog.  You challenge yourself as a learner.


  1. Hi Mrs Lee.
    I don't know if we are supposed to respond to this post or another one. I couldn't find many other posts and I'm not sure how we are supposed to respond. But I'm responding ;).

    From Anthony Cannon

  2. Mrs. Lee,
    Tonight I stumbled upon your blog, and I am incredibly grateful I did. This post, along with many others astonished me. You show incredible passion not just for teaching, but for bettering each and every student as best you can. I myself was grateful for the feedback that I received on my essay, because indeed, I had put forth a great effort. The fact that a teacher acknowledged this made me feel like I can accomplish goals that I work for.
    Just thought that you would like to know that I am grateful for your effort each and every day.

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  4. Mrs. Lee,
    You have impressed me thus far. Unlike my previous Language Arts teachers, I hope that you have what it takes to help me become a better writer. You were right to complement a students effort instead of the essay itself. When someone completes a task, they should be complemented on both their effort and the quality of their results. If their product is not up to par, constructive criticism is usually the right way to proceed. At the same time, their effort should be praised as well. This gives the person a sense of accomplishment. It doesn't necessarily boost their ego, but it doesn't hurt their self-esteem either. At the same time this gives them an opportunity to improve themselves and their abilities. I agree with your opinions, although I might do it differently.

    Period 1

  5. Brooke,

    Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to read & respond. Though I like the reflection, just as I'm sure you sometimes wonder if anyone notices your hard work, teachers sometimes wonder the same. Thanks for noticing. :)

  6. Joseph,

    I sure hope so too. Clearly, you are already a strong writer. I hope I can continue to challenge you. If you ever think of ways I can continue to help you improve, please let me know.
    Thanks for reading & for your kind words.