5 Quick Tips for Helpful Feedback & Recommendations

Christian Ramsey

We all want to give useful recommendations and feedback to our students. Have you ever had a student repeat the same issues you are addressing in their work? I’ve been there. It may be that the students simply cannot grasp the material or the changes you are suggesting. On the other hand, it may be that we are not as clear as we think we are. Have you ever received feedback or recommendations that left you more baffled than the original task? Been there too.

This is not restricted to the classroom or workplace. Many well-meaning Christians share with non-Christians about the fullness of the Christian life, people’s need of God, etc., yet what the hearers walk away with is still a bit muddy for them. Perhaps in such instances, those sharing are not clear in certain facets. For example, if people fail to grasp the sinfulness of their sin (Ro 7:7-13), how can they understand their objective need for a Savior and learn to trust and love the One who did so much for them? In Scripture, God’s directions, critiques, and encouragements are quite clear. One example is Revelation 2 and 3 when Jesus addresses the seen churches in Asia Minor. He is clear on what they are doing well, where they need to repent, and what rewards and punishments are in store. Now am I saying we need to do all that for each student’s tasks? No. But there are some principles we can glean.

Though not an exhaustive list by any means, feedback and recommendation—to whatever extent we provide them—should at least be balanced, specific, measurable, constructive, and sensitive. Basically, balanced means that both good/correct and what needs work are addressed. We tend to notice the negative. But, Rom 12:9 reminds us we are to abhor what is evil, but also cling to what is good. Being specific empowers students to address exactly what we intend. Again, Jesus’ example of “This I have against you…” Measurable recommendations avoid the perception of constant failure in attempting to be “better” (whatever that means). To the Ephesian church, Jesus basically said to remember something, repent of the aforementioned items, and do a certain task. They could tell if they had followed Him in those or not. If recommendations can be, as it were, checked off, changes can be viewed as little successes instead. Constructive is an example or directive about solutions, not merely what is missing. For instance, “More specifics in your summary would make it even better. Try mentioning the actual premises of the argument,” or, “Watch your grammar. The tenses in the first paragraph are inconsistent. Using future tense throughout would work well for your approach,” etc.

Lastly, being sensitive is important as well—especially in an online environment. I know you all support your students, want what is best for them, and try to help them. At some level, they know that too. But correction is often accompanied with feelings of personal rejection. Feedback and recommendations given with an attitude of “You got this” and perceived as an opportunity to improve their awesomeness, conquer a difficult skill, excel at their job more than the next person, etc., can both ease the blow and also stir some excitement about being able to do better than they may have previously thought possible. And you can be the key turning point for them.

Jesus cared enough to give great feedback and recommendations. Love cares enough to rejoice in the truth (comfortable and uncomfortable). I know you care for your students and their futures. I do too. Sometimes we just need an approach to deliver things more positively. Hopefully, this helps a bit.

Here is a little video to help with remembering these 5 tips: https://youtu.be/vY_piSZcoBA For further perspective, here is an article regarding the importance of good feedback for students, as well as comparisons between feedback, advice, grading, etc. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

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