20/20 – Day 1: 20 ways to engage with feedback

Over the next four weeks I’m treating you to a new series of posts, 20 Lists of 20 (or “20/20” for short).  Twenty posts on a variety of subjects, all as lists of twenty. I hope you find them useful.

Today’s topic is on engaging with feedback.

When you get your coursework back from your tutor, you hope the comments will be positive (as well as the grade).  But what about the constructive criticism and suggestions on where you could improve?  Even a well-received paper will have constructive comments, but a poorly marked essay is likely to go as far out of your sight as possible, not to be looked at again.  This is a mistake.

Your less pleasing essays probably have the best feedback to help you improve.  In Day One of my “20/20” series, here are some ways you can make the most of the feedback you’ve been given.

  1. Focus on what you’ve been asked to improve. You probably want to forget about the negative feedback, but that’s what you need to concentrate on.  Make a point of tackling those issues head on in your next piece of work.
  2. Don’t be complacent. Enjoy that shiny gold star and revel in the glory as your tutor suggests you publish your essay in the biggest scholarly journal out there. But don’t lose sight of the next essay. And the one after that. And the one after that.  You’re not looking for a one-off, you’re looking for consistency!
  3. Ask why.  Whatever feedback you receive, ask yourself why you think you got it. A few days after you get the marks, spend ten minutes taking it seriously and work out why you feel it happened the way it did.  It doesn’t always take more than a few moments to work out how to improve for next time.
  4. Get MORE feedback. Take some time with your tutor to chew over the pros and cons.  Always take the feedback seriously and seek out advice on improving your game via the people who know. After all, the tutors are grading you, so find out what will help them grade you higher.
  5. Re-read your work.  Are there any passages that make you cringe?  Do you yawn at the filler paragraph you added just to make the word count?  Could you have defined your argument more clearly?
  6. Read a study guide. When you’re given areas to improve upon, study guides are invaluable.  Something like “The Study Skills Handbook” or “Effective Study Skills” should help.
  7. Stop being defensive.  Criticism, no matter how constructive, sucks.  Big time.  But criticism is there for a reason.  Now is not the time to argue why the comment was uncalled for.  It’s time to address the issue and think about how you could change the coursework so you didn’t get criticised in the same way again.
  8. Don’t respond straight away.  Give yourself time to relax before returning to the piece.  No matter how well or badly you feel you did, you can’t focus on the feedback properly until it’s settled in your mind.
  9. Get creative. Some issues arise when you try too hard to conform to a particular way of writing or you don’t believe you can do better.  Get rid of these blocks and work to your own strengths.  Churn out great stuff in the most creative way you can and consider making it fit after that.
  10. Plan your next coursework in advance.  You can always use your time more productively.
  11. Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses.  You know what you’re good at, so make sure you continue to shine there.  But don’t do that by neglecting your weak points.  Aim to turn those into strengths too.
  12. Don’t panic! A poor grade can be disheartening, but the whole point in engaging with feedback is so you can get a better grade.  Don’t worry about the feedback, embrace it and make good use of it!
  13. Read more around the subject. Ask about what research you have missed out on and go beyond the suggested reading list. Push yourself to find something new and unexpected.
  14. Give yourself feedback. Similarly to re-reading your work, why not be critical about your own work?  You know it’s not perfect, so where would you like to improve?  What aspects would you change if you could go back?
  15. Accept peer feedback in the same way you would from a tutor…at first.  You may not agree with the feedback and it may sound stupid. You’re more likely to discard comments from peers. What would they know?  But don’t be quick to ignore.  Take the comment seriously (unless completely stupid) and see what you can learn from it.
  16. Feel encouraged.  Feedback is designed to spur you on and help you improve.  The tutor isn’t laughing at you, they’re hoping you’ll take the advice on board and hand in a better piece of work next time.
  17. Focus on larger concerns.  We all make mistakes.  Don’t get bogged down with guilt over a spelling mistake and the odd formatting error.  Deal with the criticism regarding content.
  18. Spend time improving on key points.  Did the conclusion have nothing to do with the main text?  Were you lacking a solid introduction?  Analyse what’s missing so you don’t suffer the same way next time.
  19. Break it down. Negative feedback, especially lots of it, can be difficult to take in.  Take each point one at a time so you’re not overwhelmed by it.
  20. Make separate notes if you need.  What would you do different next time?  Engage with the feedback on a deeper level by noting problem areas, how you aim to improve, and go over what you could have included/changed in hindsight.  Taking the feedback further than reading the comments is important if you’re going to make the most of it.

One post down, nineteen to go. Tomorrow I look at how you can find your own voice. Hope you can join me then.

Photo credit: tiffa130 (cc)

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