Improvement in the academic environment often requires feedback. Whether from peers or mentors, feedback offers crucial insight into how we can better ourselves. It helps us realize our repetitive mistakes and how others perceive our performance. However, the methods of giving constructive feedback differ, as does their efficacy from person to person. Some students like direct feedback, while others prefer more subtle critiques, so it’s important for teachers to target their feedback to their audience. It’s never one-size-fits-all. In academic settings like Rowland Hall, the best form of feedback varies from person to person. I interviewed different students across grades to learn what form of feedback (if any) is most effective for them.
The students I interviewed taking language classes found that receiving immediate feedback after practicing was the most effective for them. Andrew Murphy, a sophomore, remarks that in Spanish he’s “found that [graded] workbook exercises serve [him] the best'' because he’s able to get concrete feedback about his mastery. Junior Joey Lieskovan, a long-time Chinese student, says that “[Chinese] is a really difficult language, so I find that speaking out loud and receiving verbal feedback is most useful for me.” These different preferences in feedback indicate that one method isn’t universal for everyone. Lieskovan adds that “a lot of the most important feedback that I’ve gotten is through trial and error. It teaches me what to do and what not to do.” More specifically, Joey adds, “things like Quizlet give me the most direct and frequent feedback when I’m studying. There’s a mode on the app that will tell you which words you’ve been missing the most and it’ll make sure you get them down.” Hence, feedback doesn’t always come in the traditional form of teachers speaking to students. “It’s not a conventional way of learning about your learning, but it’s worked well for students like us,” Gabe Andrus, a junior, adds. The app now features over seven different study modes that cater to different student preferences. Gabe explains that one of his favorites is “a test option that will randomly assign you questions.” He continues, “The ones that you miss will be shown to you at the end, and it’s a super fast way to get feedback on what you’re prone to missing.” Andrus states that “when I don’t have a teacher at my side, these apps are really useful in telling me where I need to improve.”
For other classes like English, many students believe that receiving feedback on their written work periodically works best for them. Gabe Andrus notes that “I find it helpful when I get comments on my work in Canvas. It’s targeted and I get to know exactly what I need to fix.” He adds, “In English, I’m used to getting periodic feedback on bigger writing assignments.” Rather than receiving continuous feedback every day, Gabe notes that English teachers at Rowland Hall tend to offer feedback at the end of a unit and checkpoint growth periodically. “While I still feel like I’m getting better every day through class discussions, I’ll usually be assessed at the end of each unit and given feedback then.” However, junior Eric Lu believes that having “shorter intervals between each time you receive feedback is the best.” He explains that “it helps [him] avoid confusion and keeps [him] on the right track.” He also says that things like peer reviews can help bridge these gaps because “you can schedule them anytime and receive immediate feedback.” Eric then tells me that “getting feedback from your peers…gives you a fresh take on your work. You have a bunch of different people who’ve never read your piece comment on it, which is super valuable.” Feedback from your peers also offers a sense of candor that you only get from your peers. Eric laughs, “Even if it’s not something you always want to hear, people can be brutally honest.” This honesty, Eric observes, is both good and bad. “You kind of walk a fine line when it comes to peer reviews. Sometimes it’s helpful because of people’s candidness, but detrimental at times because it makes you overthink certain errors.”
That said, it’s important to target our feedback to our audiences. Dr. Johnson, a gastroenterologist, notes that things like generational characteristics often determine what kind of feedback we like the most. “Noticing these characteristics allows educators to develop a learning culture that is appealing and relevant,” Johnson says. Gen Z students like us at Rowland Hall grew up surrounded by tech, so we often seek immediate and engaging feedback. Thus, teachers who primarily come from Gen X need to understand the differences between them and younger generations. Our preferences in feedback aren’t the same across the board for everybody though. Baby boomers, who are characteristically more loyal and goal-oriented (even a little judgemental) might not prefer the same kind of feedback millennials often prefer. According to AEU Lead, a leadership development organization, baby boomers favor traditional methods of feedback like performance reviews.
While feedback is useful for fixing mistakes, it can be harmful when overloading someone with critiques. According to a study published in the Frontiers of Neuroscience, when people performed difficult tasks and were given either positive or negative feedback, their decision-making ended up being worse. Dr. Osman explains that “[the feedback] overloaded them with too much information and distracted them.” She continues, “The role of feedback is overemphasized. People typically think that any form of feedback should improve performance in many tasks, and the more frequently it is given the better performance will be.” Giving too much feedback often stifles any real improvement because people become so focused on fixing their mistakes that they never learn to analyze their own performance. Osman goes on to say that in the workplace “people… need to give their staff more time to evaluate things in detail…so they can come up with solutions without any distractions in order to get the best out of them." Dr. Osman warns that “people [need to] think twice about whether they could potentially hinder people’s performance with the feedback they provide.” This isn’t to say that feedback as a whole is bad, rather that it’s most effective when used in moderation. Joey Lieskovan and Gabe Andrus remark that “too much feedback kind of turns into hand-holding. You’re not taking the time to really understand your own mistakes because you’re so reliant on what other people are feeding you.” When I asked them for their suggestions as to how educators at Rowland Hall should approach feedback, they told me, “It depends. [We] find that some classes like English work best with more end-of-the-term feedback. Language classes though need more regular feedback.” Gabe then suggests that “teachers ought to look more into checking in with students individually, like once a month for a 15-min session during consultation. I feel like even just a short meeting but face-to-face communication would work well.”
Ranging from simple things like how much time we spend thumbing through our phones to more complex tasks like our performance in school, feedback is critical to our lives because it tells us how we can improve. While it’s necessary for us to be conscious about the decisions we make and our performance, feedback, especially when it overburdens us, can prevent us from evaluating ourselves. What’s more, the feedback we give each other is often colored with our own understanding of what we’re rating each other on. Thus, feedback can be more of a reflection of the person offering the critique. While feedback in the most objective sense might not exist, it is still important to share our own experiences and feelings with others. Just because our criticism may not be capital-T “truth,” the information we share isn’t any less valuable.