Whether you call it constructive criticism or feedback, the words you use, the information you present, and the errors you point out to students, will be subject to their interpretation more than yours. Therefore, it is important to find ways to help your students receive and manage feedback, which will not only benefit them but will also help keep the lines of communication open between you and your class. However, it would help if they understood the meaning of constructive criticism or feedback.
During the first day or week of school set aside time to discuss constructive criticism or feedback. Depending on the level you teach, many students may not understand or even have heard of “constructive criticism”, especially if at home no such animal exists. The word construction as it relates to building houses could be used as a starting point, with constructive building up people.
Teach the concept as a mini-lesson which should take no more than 30 minutes. The time used on teaching students the difference between constructive criticism and its opposite, destructive criticism (insults), will be more than made up later when your students learn from the constructive feedback you give them.
- Practice turning negative comments into constructive comments. Of course, modeling constructive criticism for the class will also be helpful. By sharing a few of the examples from the media or other sources, students can easily see and hear destructive criticism. You can instead show students how to turn some of that into constructive criticism which is meant to be helpful. This can be also be done by pointing out some not-so-rare negative classroom comments and then changing them to more constructive comments.
For example, take this imaginary insult: “The answer wasn’t even close.” Instead, a person could respond and be helpful: “Did you hear the question correctly? I am wondering what other thoughts you might have on the subject.” Both are much more constructive, and the student can more effectively manage the criticism.
- Teach students that constructive criticism is not to be taken personally and it can be separated more positively. Since most students will hear more destructive than constructive criticism in their life, they will need to learn not to take it personally and separate the two. Constructive criticism, more personal, is meant to help them with something they may have control over and can change. It is not meant to hurt them personally, which is usually what destructive criticism tries to do.
Give students a scenario in which they receive constructive feedback. For example, say: “I know you are capable of doing better.” Explain to students that the comment is constructive because they are in control and can do better, especially when the teacher knows he or she is more capable of doing so.
- Another way students can manage constructive criticism is by giving them real-life examples of other people who have used it and managed it successfully. Many athletes, entertainers, historical figures and others have been criticized constructively and otherwise, and have used the criticism as motivation to reflect on their faults, mistakes, or shortcomings. Following this reflection, they set new goals, practiced harder, or made other changes in their life to overcome problems they may have faced.
For example, the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, received criticism suggesting that kids were no longer interested in books with wizards. She could have changed the subject of her books, but she overcame the criticism and became a successful author read by millions and millions of people.
- The final way to help students manage constructive criticism is, for you as a teacher, get in the habit of using constructive criticism. Sometimes there is a fine line between helping and hurting a student when you need to be critical of their work.
In addition, and when appropriate, encourage your students to use constructive criticism with their classmates, especially during times students work cooperatively. This environment becomes ripe for some give and take, understanding, respect, and a healthy camaraderie that will be valuable and beneficial throughout the students’ school years and beyond.
How have you best handled constructive criticism in your classroom?