Feedback Matters

Feedback is how we learn about the world. It is how we come to know what is right and wrong, how we grow or become stunted. Children are having new experiences every single day and whether these experiences are positive or negative largely depends on the feedback received.

What does this mean for you, the parent, teacher or other important adult in a child’s life? It means the thoughtful – or careless – feedback or comments you say to a child has great power to shape the person they will become. Simple words become a part of the fabric of a child’s life, so we must be very, very thoughtful as to the kind of feedback we give.

If you stop and remember back you will probably be able to recall specific instances of feedback that shaped your life. Perhaps encouragement from a teacher that sparked an interest and possibly even a career path? Or a seed of a thoughtless comment that was spoken in frustration, growing into a choking weed to strangle any interest you may have.

As adults, negative feedback stings but we are better at looking beyond the words. We can recognize when someone is speaking out in anger or frustration or thoughtlessness. We are more secure in who we are and can view interactions with a critical eye. Most children have not developed these skills yet. They take things literally and at face value, which is why words can either be so uplifting & inspiring or damaging.

Language is the precursor of results. It is very important to choosing your words carefully when offering feedback. If feedback is negative and not constructive then you will get negative results. It cuts off the chance for further learning because children will often stop trying something rather than risk further negative feedback, especially from those they care about.

If feedback is positive and constructive, it encourages children to try again to strive for better and better results. Positive feedback is motivating, uplifting and very valuable as children try to master new skills. Consider a child learning to walk. They spend the majority of their time getting up , falling, and trying again. Learning any new skill is very much the same – make an attempt, gain feedback from your audience, and try again.

The Critique – Formal Feedback: There will be times, especially if you are a teacher, where formal feedback is required. A Critique should be a considered and measured evaluation.  A critique is basically an opinion with with supporting evidence, and is valuable feedback that can help someone learn and grow. It can also be damaging if not done correctly. Here are the steps to a successful critique:

Absorb. It might be a speech, a painting, or a song, but whatever it is you are critiquing, take the time to take it all in.  Pay attention careful and use active listening skills. If you note anything positive or negative, make a mental note but do not bring it up or interrupt at this time.

Interpret. This is your first opportunity to respond to whatever it is you are critiquing. It is a chance to speak on any impressions you have, how it makes you feel, how you interpret it. There are no right and wrong answers here. It is simply your impressions. You may see things in the work the person who created it didn’t, it is a learning opportunity for the person to see how others may view the work.

Technical and Artistic. Here is your chance to go over specific technical and artistic elements, which will be specific to the medium. This is a chance to have the creator to explain their approach with the project and to discuss other options for ways things could work.

Good Points. No matter whether you personally like something someone else has done, there is always something good in it. You might have to look deep to find it! Be specific, this transforms an opinion into a critique. It is not enough to say “I like the birds in your picture”. Better feedback would be “I like how you have drawn the birds in the sky and their shadows on the ground”.

Areas for Improvement. There are always ways we can improve. When offering a critique it is important to consider the medium, offer appropriate advice, and use language that inspires. Some things you can just try again, such as with speech. Somethings, like paintings, are done. In either case, suggestions to be tried next time – and the reasons behind it – will be best. Provide specific examples and actions they can incorporate into their work.

Being asked to critique someone’s work is an honor and implies trust in your opinion.  It is not something to be done lightly, but by giving critiques you can learn a lot about yourself as well.

Behind every successful person is a champion. A friend, a mentor, a teacher, a parent – someone in their life who inspired them to succeed and offered the positive and constructive feedback necessary that allowed them to grow and develop their skills and interests. Your words, positive or negative, have the power to shape lives in ways you can’t imagine. The next time a child comes to you asking for feedback, I hope you will become the champion that inspires greatness in them.

Have any thoughts to share on the topic of Feedback? Please post below!

*Update Dec 12,2011 – I just read a inspiring and thought provoking post on on of my favourite blogs –  Jonathan Fields.com called Judgement be Damned. Check it out for a great perspective on opening yourself up to creative Feedback!

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