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Why Students Need Teachers to Give Positive Feedback

Updated on May 8, 2012

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.

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Firsthand Experience

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!

This is a paper I got back this semester... none of this feedback is positive, yet I still got an A!
This is a paper I got back this semester... none of this feedback is positive, yet I still got an A!
Even though I didn't get everything right, this other professor took the time to say "great effort"
Even though I didn't get everything right, this other professor took the time to say "great effort"

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?

What Do You Think?

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    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

      This is absolutely true. It is extremely powerful with students who are surrounded by negativity. However, it is important for teachers to be genuine and for their positive comments to be meaningful.

    • Michel Gnon profile image

      Michel Gnon 4 years ago from Atlanta,GA

      I fully agree with you. The Law of attraction works more in the classroom and school setting than anywhere else. Teachers have to be positive at all times. The classroom atmosphere, just like the family atmosphere is what the head sets it to be.

      If as a teacher you meanly welcome your students in class, well, that what you will get back. WE REAP WHAT WE SOW. If you need a friend, be a friend. If you want polite and respectful students, be a polite and respectful teacher. KIDS WILL RESPOND TO HOW WE APPROACH THEM. If you treat or see them as little rascals and little bad kids, then be ready to deal with the reality of your prophetic word.

      Children will ALWAYS, ALWAYS REFLECT OUR EXPECTATIONS OF THEM. The one thing I know is this: THEY WILL NOT CARE ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU KNOW, UNTIL THEY KNOW ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU CARE.

    • ravenlt04 profile image

      ravenlt04 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I am a middle school teacher. Teaching grade school has got to be so different from teaching college. The student goals and responsibilities are often so different. It would be so amazing if some of the pressure was taken off of teachers, though. With the pressures of having to teach to the tests, the limited time we have to teach all of the content, and having to control classes of 30+ students, it gets hard. I do definitely find myself being more critical. I tried to use rewards to encourage acceptable behavior, but I was often discouraged when students misbehaved after being rewarded. I still don't understand that. It is a lot easier to give positive feedback when students do well academically; and I did. But, again, because certain test scores are expected, the bad scores were addressed most, remediation put in place for those many students who didn't do well. The remediation was supportive, though, huh? And that doesn't always happen in other classrooms. I did try to compliment students on things they did do well.... 95 percent passed the math CRCTs, so I did something right I suppose. :) Every year I strive to manage my classroom better and keep the atmosphere more light and emotionally safe. Thank you for your positive perspective and suggestions.

    • bemily521 profile image
      Author

      bemily521 5 years ago

      @TINA V - those corrections are outrageous! I guess we all make mistakes sometimes, but it seems that if one notices an error, he/she ought to be able to correct it appropriately... haha thanks for sharing. Another crucial component to feedback: accuracy!

    • TINA V profile image

      TINA V 5 years ago

      This is an informative hub. Just voted up! This is a good article about the importance of giving positive feedback. Actually, this is not only applicable to teachers, but as well as to all parents. We tend to focus on the mistakes and forget to see the good traits of a child.

      On the other hand, teachers must also be careful when correcting errors of their students. My niece, who’s currently an elementary student, showed me her short essay with few corrections from her teacher.

      Example 1:

      Student’s spelling - ingrediants

      Teacher’s correction - ingrediant (The teacher deleted the letter ‘s’, but this is another wrong spelling.)

      NOTE: The correct spelling should be ‘ingredient’ (Its plural term is ingredients.)

      Example 2:

      Student’s word – loose (The student used the wrong verb in her sentence.)

      Teacher’s correction – lost (The teacher still used the wrong verb.)

      Note: The correct word should be ‘loosed’ (example: He suddenly loosed his grip.)

      (The word is quite complicated, which can either be used as an adjective, verb or noun. It can have different meanings and tenses such loose, lose, lost, loosen, losing, loosely, etc.)

      Teachers must not correct one mistake with another mistake. They must be cautious in everything they do because they are the role models of their students. This is just an additional reminder. I hope it helps.

      Have a great week!

    • bemily521 profile image
      Author

      bemily521 5 years ago

      @yoginijoy Thank you! I'm glad we see eye to eye. :) What classes do you teach in college? Do you think this is a problem in certain departments more than others?

    • yoginijoy profile image

      yoginijoy 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      As a college educator, I am all for this! It takes time to be a great teacher, but the results, as you point out, are so far reaching--to the entire society as a whole. I am glad that you are drawing attention to this issue. I think there is an epidemic of "negative thinking" in general, and this will help to curb it. Keep writing!

    • bemily521 profile image
      Author

      bemily521 5 years ago

      @Paul I completely agree! Simply pointing out what they did wrong is not enough. It is important to offer ways to improve as well as compliment what was done well. I am glad you found this helpful and appreciate your input.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      This is an excellent and useful hub. Yes, it is important to give positive feedback to students instead of always concentrating on the negatives. My suggestion is to give both positive and negative feedback at the same time as you alluded to in the one-on-one feedback from the teacher to students. When I do this, I first praise the students for the good things that they have done, and then after pointing out what was done incorrectly, suggest ways for improvement. When I took a management course earlier in my life, this technique was called the McFeedback. Voted up and sharing.

    • bemily521 profile image
      Author

      bemily521 5 years ago

      @hectordang Also true, and that's a key factor in the student's future success and development of a lifestyle of learning. Great point!

    • hectordang profile image

      hectordang 5 years ago from New York

      Yes, teachers should encourage their students and recognize the positives. However students should develop intrinsic motivation and not act because they want to please the teacher.

    • bemily521 profile image
      Author

      bemily521 5 years ago

      @vocalcoach Thanks! I'm glad you appreciate this as an important topic as well. Your hub looks interesting - the words we use are definitely important!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      This is my favorite type of hub. It actually goes hand-in-hand with my most recent hub on "words that penetrate the human soul".

      A very needed topic for all educators and parents. You've done an out-standing job and I'm voting up!