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Ever at a Loss for Giving Feedback on Substandard Work? Seek Thankfulness.

Have you ever had a submission that you just didn’t know what to do with it? I mean, you want to give effective feedback, you want to be point out what was good, needed addressing, etc., but the student so missed the point of the task, that pretty much everything was wrong – but you can’t just say that, right? Well, here’s a thought that might help. Thank them for it. No, really, start by thanking them for it.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving thanks for everything (Eph. 5:20) I realized I do this often in courses, and there seem to be multiple benefits from showing thankfulness to the students for their work. Let me briefly illustrate. No matter how lousy or off topic a student response may be, there is always something you can thank them for. If they showed great effort, but missed the point, you can thank them for their effort, diligence, focus, passion, etc. If they merely expressed personal experience or opinion with no required scholarly material, you can still thank them for sharing – for their transparency or willingness to share from their lives. In a very real way, when students share their experiences, they are sharing themselves.

Many times, taking the effort to thank a student for sharing makes a much easier transition to what all needs to be addressed and corrected about the students work. Thanking them for sharing can foster a greater transparency in the future as they continue to improve their work. And, thanking them for sharing can make it easier to ask them to discontinue doing so, if the course or assignments need to have a very different emphasis. Students hearing that the instructor really does care about them (their experiences, opinions, etc.) can make the instructions to no longer do so easier to hear. After all, it’s not that you don’t like them or don’t care – you have affirmed and valued them — it’s just the pesky assignment that doesn’t allow room for that kind of thing.

In one of my courses there were a number of students who continually shared opinions as the majority (or only) facet of their work. This would be fine, but the course in general (and the assignments in particular) were asking about factual and/logical conclusions requiring supportive materials. After validating the importance of opinions, and encouraging them to have and develop them further, I reminded them that it was not a course about opinions. There was no kickback about this, their work improved and toward the end of the course, what was once mere opinion developed into opinion based on evidence and logic in light of such-and-such material.

So, if you get stuck in wanting to give feedback for work that so missed the mark you can’t think of where to begin, be thankful. In every submission, there is something to be thankful for (1 Thess. 5:18). It may take some practice but the practice is worth it – for you and for them.

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