In a literature class I took in high school, my class submitted all of our papers online for the ease of checking plagiarism and providing feedback. As Ann described in her post about audio and video feedback, my teacher not only left us written comments but audio feedback as well.
Five years later, I still remember how encouraging his audio clips were to me. They were constructive and uplifting.
What made this feedback so meaningful? Why has it stuck with me for so long? I think it’s a combination of a few different factors.
Relationship with Instructor
By the time I received this feedback from my teacher, it was already probably halfway through the semester. I had asked him questions regarding my assignments before, and his guidance helped me establish trust and respect toward him.
Now, as a college student, I still value these kinds of interactions with professors, especially when they take time to help me outside of class. And this goes for online classes, too. In one online class I took, I didn’t need much extra help from the instructor. The assignment instructions were clear enough that I didn’t need to ask questions.
After I turned in a rough draft of my final paper, the instructor left me some comments to consider. The feedback felt detached and almost insignificant because of our lack of other meaningful interactions with each other.
Of course, I appreciated the instructor’s suggestions and made the changes to my paper. But I quickly moved on afterwards to complete other homework. I probably would have felt differently toward her suggestions if I would have reached out to her more.
When I recall the meaningful feedback I received on those high school papers, another key element was specificity. First, my teacher called me by name in his comments. This may seem inconsequential, but for me it meant that his feedback was not the same for every student. It showed that he actually read and evaluated what I wrote.
The audio comments from my teacher also referenced my previous assignments. They weren’t just generalizations like, “You have improved a lot in this class.” He gave specific, concrete observations on areas where I improved or where I needed more help.
Grammar errors and other small issues were usually addressed in written comments. The audio clips focused on my writing as a whole, the larger problems which would take more time. I then had the opportunity to fix these errors before submitting final drafts.
This feedback helped me to identify patterns in my writing. As the semester progressed, I stopped repeating the same mistakes which used to show up in my work. That class allowed me to grow so much as a writer, and I attribute a significant part of this to the feedback I received.
Receiving meaningful critiques also helped me better identify errors in my peers’ work. Because I had established these expectations for constructive feedback, I took them into consideration when I peer-reviewed my classmates’ papers. I made efforts to connect with them outside of our peer-review assignments, and I referred back to their other writings when possible.
And I still use these editing skills today. When an Instructional Designer in our office asks me to preview a course or a document, I provide feedback from my point of view as a student, and I keep in mind the importance of specificity.
I’ve applied this knowledge to many other areas of my academic life as well. From group projects in class to copyediting for the school newspaper, I give feedback quite often. And since I plan to work somewhere in the field of professional writing after graduation, surely I will use this skill for years to come.
Have you received meaningful feedback that’s followed you through your life? Let us know!
Celeste Fendt (Junior) is a professional writing major and Associate Editor for Spring Arbor University’s student newspaper, The Pulse, and she plans to work in advertising after she graduates.