Help Them Help You: Being Receptive to Faculty Feedback
At the Walden National Faculty Meeting this summer, I presented a session to faculty titled “What Students Say Behind Your (Feed)back.” During the presentation, I talked about some of the common concerns students have with the way their faculty members communicate with them about their writing. I was a little nervous, unsure if instructors would be defensive or even interested in hearing about ways they could improve in this area. I breathed a sigh of relief as my classroom filled up with faculty members eager to hear student perspectives and ideas for how they can better meet those needs. They asked questions, took notes, and were genuinely interested in how they can change their approaches to better support you.
During the session, we talked through some sample student scenarios, and I started to take some notes of my own, writing this blog post in my head as I listened. Some common threads emerged when I asked faculty members to share some of their own challenges, the problems that make it hard for them to work effectively with their students on writing. During this session, and in other conversations I’ve had with course instructors in my role here at the Writing Center, I’ve heard these two issues more than any others:
“The student was offended when I suggested the need for writing help.”
There are variations to this concern, often involving students who have gotten through several courses with solid grades, only to find that this course instructor has different expectations or standards. We all relate to this reaction; writing is very personal, and negative feedback about your writing can feel like negative feedback about you. I would encourage you, though, to step back and take a breath before reacting defensively to a suggestion to pursue writing support. We see students at all skill levels at the Writing Center, and we have yet to say to anyone, “Yep, this is perfect. No room for improvement here!” We can all use another set of eyes—including those of us at the Writing Center. This very blog post will go through at least two rounds of editing, for example. Try your best to take this sort of referral in the spirit in which it’s intended—as a desire to help you strengthen your skills—rather than as an insult.
“I don’t think the student is reading my feedback.”
This can be especially frustrating, and instructors who encounter this frequently will sometimes give up, cutting back on useful feedback in the future out of a feeling of futility. One of the biggest values of your education is the one-to-one feedback you’ll get from your course instructor or chair, and you can encourage more of it by showing that you’re reading and using it.
A few tips for responding to feedback
1. Course instructors use different means to communicate their feedback. Some will send you e-mails, some will embed comments within your paper draft, and some provide “wrap-up” comments within Blackboard. As you start each new class, be sure to learn your instructor’s feedback style. If you don’t see any feedback after your first paper, ask the instructor. He or she will be thrilled to know you’re eager to learn.
2. If your instructor uses shorthand or terms you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Instructors would much rather you come to them with any confusion rather than simply shrugging off a comment as unclear and potentially making the same error on the next assignment.
3. Thank your instructor for the feedback. It might seem silly, but after a long night reading a dozen or more assignments and sending feedback into cyberspace, it can be hugely gratifying to have at least one response from a student saying, “I hear you, and I appreciate it.”
4. Use the feedback when writing your next assignment. I can’t emphasize this enough. Instructors who make extensive writing suggestions expect that you will remember and apply them as you compose your next paper. (For help, check out Kayla's blog post on how to apply feedback to your writing.) Your instructor is looking for writing skill growth across assignments, and the feedback you receive should move you in that direction.
5. The next time you receive writing feedback from your instructor, commit to hearing that feedback with open ears, and responding to that feedback with appreciation and a readiness to learn. You’ll make a faculty member’s day, and you’ll be a stronger writer for it!
Practice: For the next 10 minutes, think and free-write about the way you usually respond (or don't respond) to writing feedback from your course instructor or chair. Do you follow any of the tips above? How does or how might following the tips change your writing experience? Share your free-write in the comments, and don't forget to respond to other writers.
As the Writing Center's manager of program outreach and faculty support, Amber Cook's main focus is supporting faculty in their work with student writers.
Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time