Understanding the Feedback Process

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For the past weekish, Kat and I have been working on a paper in response to the “Creativity Crisis” for our AP Lang Collab-Course. I’m not going to go into depth on the content of the paper itself tonight– that will come later with the paper itself– but what I have found quite interesting is how we have been approaching this paper differently than how we might have approached a paper for a “typical class”.

Our prompt actually came straight from an old AP Lang exam question; however, we tweaked it a tad because we want to take our paper a step further, so rather than just writing an argument piece, we actually plan on sharing this piece with online publications to get our thoughts/writing out to a wider audience. Hopefully we spark some interesting conversations, and as they are looking now, I think we will!

While writing this piece I have found the biggest difference in my writing is actually how I edit my work. I have a much stronger grasp on what it means to give and receive feedback than I did even a year ago (thanks ID!!). This allows me to go through my work and think, “If I was giving feedback to someone else, what would I be looking for?” So on my paper (done in a google doc), I’ve left comments asking questions about certain snippets of my writing where I think there could potentially be changes needed, but I want another perspective on it.

Rather than just writing a paper and having a teacher grade it based on a rubric they’ve designed, I’m actually getting the opportunity to say “This is what I want feedback on,” and then let mentors (including peers and even some student mentors from different states in fact) respond and add additional comments that they think are worth pointing out. To be honest the process feels kind of like when I would ask a peer to edit my paper before handing in an assignment; I’m very open to all feedback because I want it to make it the best possible before the “final draft”. It reminds me of what I imagine the relationship is between an author and his/her editor. I mean no one writes perfectly, that’s why we have other people look over and help edit our work so that we can make the writing as strong as possible. Looking at teachers and students as mentors in this way where we can actually have a conversation about my writing and how it can be improved (not just graded) has been really cool and super helpful to my writing!

With blogging, and therefore writing, almost everyday, I’ve occasionally had people say my writing has improved over the course of the past few years. This leads to the question of “What made it improve?” I now think that it isn’t just that I’m writing more often, while that is definitely an element of it, I think having a stronger understanding of what it means to give and receive feedback is what has made my writing stronger.

Feedback isn’t a number; that isn’t helpful. What does a number mean? Helpful feedback is the commentary on what you did well, what you could improve on, and suggestions for how you might improve. And when you receive feedback, even if it’s on things you need to improve on, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or did a horrible job, or that your feedback giver doesn’t like you and/or your work. It’s quite the opposite in my opinion, because if your feedback giver gives you feedback on the things they didn’t love, that means they care enough about your work to try and help you make it better. To be honest, I think the feedback on what and how you could improve is often more helpful then what you did well, because it moves you along on your journey with what to work on next.

It’s interesting how taking grades out of the equation effects my writing. I think I take more risks and try more new things when I’m not worrying about a grade. When I’m graded and do poorly, I don’t always (trying to get better at this) see it as “feedback to help me improve”, I just see it as “oh no I did something wrong…” I’ve really enjoyed not having grades attacked to our AP Lang work because it has made me feel more free to explore and take risks with how I write, and it has made me more open to receiving feedback.

There are many more ways to give feedback than just grades. I wonder how understanding feedback at a deeper level could help improve students overall communication skills.

(At this point I find it interesting to also note an old post of mine that I wrote towards the beginning of last school year that was also on feedback, which also happens to be one of my more popular posts. I feel like my thoughts on feedback have started to come full circle now after re-reading this old post compared to my current thoughts and post.)

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