Teaching Opinion

PSA: When Giving Feedback, Don’t Lead With ‘I Love’ or ‘I Like’

By Starr Sackstein — April 21, 2019 3 min read
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“I love that you are able to discuss your learning the way you do.”

“I like that you put in such a great effort on this project.”

“I love this line you wrote in your essay.”

Although all of these pieces of feedback are well-intentioned and not completely without merit, we can do better.

When providing feedback, rather than approval-seeking feeling words like “like” or “love,” feedback providers (teachers, students, peers) should focus on developing efficacy around particular skills and leave the nurturing/validating emotional part of out it.

Now I’m not saying that telling a student, colleague, or team member that you loved something they did is always bad, but if we’re looking to develop capacity, we want to give the person the ownership over the area we are developing with the feedback.

Rather than say, “I love that you are able to discuss your learning the way you do,” try, “You’re so articulate in the way you present your learning. You should feel proud.” This allows the receiver to take ownership of the feedback being provided and the work that got them there.

In the same vein, when presenting constructive feedback, you also don’t want to add in feeling words. Instead of “I’m not impressed with your introductory paragraph as it lacks clear context and a thesis statement,” try, “Your introductory paragraph needs to be more robust. Make sure to add some context as we’ve discussed, and the thesis needs to be more concise so the reader knows what to expect in your paper. You can do this by ...”

Too often, when we are trying to find what to say to our students, or as leaders, our teachers, we lead with what we like or dislike, but it isn’t about us, it’s about the learner. So let’s keep it about them and not dilute it with our reactions to their learnings. That’s a conversation for another time.

The same way we teach students to not say, “I think” when they write as it is implied, we can take out the “I like or love” and just start with the qualities we wish to address directly with actionable strategies to support the goal we wish to accomplish.

Consider the following:

If you look at the feedback in the chart I’ve created, you notice two major differences in what we can do to improve the feedback we provide:

  1. I take the emotion and/or judgment word out of the feedback as it rarely has a place in the writing. Students shouldn’t become reliant on our opinions as opinions can vary as they go through life.
  2. There is a specific area the student should be working on with an actual plan to make the writing better. It isn’t good enough to just identify what is good or what isn’t, we must tell students why that is the case and more importantly how they can make it better on their own without doing it for them.

Too often teachers are inclined to correct student learning as a means to “making it better.” However, correcting student work or heavily editing for students only makes them more reliant on the teacher. We have an obligation to give them the skills to find/identify what is working in their own writing or work and what isn’t and how to move forward once they can find the issues.

For higher-level writers, it is a matter of style and nuance. They aren’t necessarily looking to correct something that is wrong but they are looking to create a piece that is more original and thoughtful. Perhaps it becomes about nuance—sentence variety, diction, or strategic rule breaking to make a point, but whatever it is, they need to be skilled enough to know it is a choice.

Feedback, no matter who we are giving it to, requires purpose and action. So it is always a good idea to ask the person looking for feedback, what it is they need or want from you before you start. This is exceptionally true with adult learners. Knowing the reason they are looking for feedback and what they hope to accomplish will provide a lens through which you can share your thoughts that could be most helpful for them.

Never allow a person to ask you, “Is this good?” That will never serve either of you. Ask for something more specific. With students, teach them how. With adults, ask clarifying questions.

How do you ensure you give the best feedback possible without sharing how much you love something? Please share.

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The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.