Why Students Need Teachers to Give Positive Feedback
Why It's a Problem
By nature of the position, teaching involves a lot of correcting errors that students make. However, I think that teachers too often focus on the "correcting errors" part that they forget to give positive feedback to their students about what they are doing well! What kind of learning environment would it be to constantly be critiqued about the things you did wrong, and never receive praise for something you knocked out of the park? The lack of positive feedback is a problem primarily because it inhibits student learning.
Unfortunately, this issue not only can negatively affects students, but even the teachers themselves. If a person is in the habit of focusing on what people are doing wrong all day, how do you think that will impact their mood and overall demeanor? It feeds into a pessimistic lifestyle that continues outside of the classroom, taking its toll on relationships at home and in the community.
Do You Think This is More of a Problem In...
As a graduate student myself, I have noticed the lack of positive feedback to be a problem virtually throughout my career as a student; and I'm actually an A student! My wife, who is around elementary and middle school teachers daily, admits the problem to be generally true at that level of education as well. Of course, addressing this issue as a college-level professor will be carried out differently than for a grade-level teacher, but I think the principles remain the same. Take a look at what I consider to be some simple ways teachers can give positive feedback to their students so that they can not only start learning more, but actually enjoying it!
What Can Be Done
Idea #1 - Give positive feedback in writing. Whenever I get my papers back from one professor in particular, there is red all over them. Now, I don't expect my work to be free of mistakes, but it is unfortunately rare that I find even one "nice job" or "good point" type of comment. Every mark is a reminder of something I did wrong, so how can I think I did anything right? Even if I get an A for the grade, my morale takes a hit. Another professor, on the other hand, takes the time to give positive feedback by acknowledging the concepts/ideas I got right. What a difference that makes! Not only does this give me more confidence in my ability, but I actually pay closer attention to the comments that are not positive (she works those in too), so I end up learning more.
Idea #2 - Give positive feedback verbally, one-on-one. One time, a professor literally pulled me aside before class and took just 20-30 seconds to give me feedback on an assignment I just completed. He told me the things I really did well, and gave me ideas of ways to improve it for next time. Now, I am not so naïve to think that this type of feedback is feasible to give for every assignment for every student, but that experience really had a lasting impact on me! How often can a student really say that about his/her teacher? There is something about that one-on-one interaction and attention that makes what my teacher has to say during that time really stick. If you're a teacher, even a substitute teacher, and you have a few seconds free to give positive feedback to a student, take advantage of the opportunity!
Idea #3 - Give positive feedback verbally, to the class as a whole. Maybe the whole class did really well on an assignment or test (yes, it happens...). Instead of ignoring it and just moving on to the next subject, we students really appreciate it when the teacher acknowledges our achievement as a class. Not to mention, it really boosts the rapport the teacher has with the class, which of course improves the willingness of the students to listen... and learn! Again, this can be as simple as one or two sentences or it can be a little longer to really drive the point home.
Idea #4 - If in grade school, give positive feedback to the parents. Parents love nothing more than to hear how wonderful their child is, am I right? Well, teachers would be smart to give positive feedback to parents more often so they can keep that relationship healthy! And you don't have to schedule or wait for a parent teacher conference either. Something that is out of the blue, like an email or phone call, will really deepen the impact of the positive report, because it is unexpected. The students also benefit indirectly here, because they may get an extra helping of reward at home. If the students can understand that the reward is coming from their performance in school, they will be more likely to repeat that positive behavior. It just makes sense!
How Things Would Change
If educators were to employ these strategies to give positive feedback to their students on a more regular basis, we would see our students not only learning more, but having more confidence using what they know; both in and outside of the classroom. The whole point of education is to prepare people to live productive lives that contribute to society as a whole; to use what one knows and apply it to his/her life. If educators would take more time to give positive feedback to students about their performance (not in place of, but in addition to, the constructive feedback), it will foster a sense of accomplishment within the students that promotes learning as achievable and actually.... wait for it.... FUN! Wouldn't that be great?