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Feedback blues: 5 steps to seeing instructor feedback as ‘constructive’ and not ‘critical’

When students submit homework or a large assignment, they may experience high levels of anxiety. If you’ve ever submitted a project titled Essay_Final, you understand this feeling completely.

Most students, especially in post-secondary education, pour their heart and soul into assignments before submission, forming a level of attachment to their work. As a result, receiving constructive criticism from their instructors may be difficult.

When you submit homework and receive a low letter grade, your first reaction might be to get defensive, which can be even more frustrating in an online learning scenario. However, the first step towards success is learning how to accept feedback and use it to improve your work. Remember, your instructor is there to guide you on the path to success, not stop you.

If you’re struggling with receiving criticism from your instructors, here are five steps to see feedback as constructive and not critical.

1. Be receptive: Look past your initial reaction

When the average person receives a piece of constructive feedback, their first reaction is to get defensive. It’s challenging to view criticism as something positive, especially after pouring time and effort into an assignment or significant project. The most critical step to receiving feedback is to be receptive and look past this initial reaction.

Take a moment to detach your emotions from your work so that you can hear the feedback. Viewing your assignment without bias is essential to effectively receiving and implementing feedback. Stay calm, listen, and keep an open mind.

2. Ask questions: Ask for advice on how you can improve

When receiving feedback from your instructor, especially in online learning, it’s vital to open positive communication lines.

Ask for clarification using the “thank you, tell me more” method. By asking for clarification and advice on how you can improve, your instructor will feel like you heard their feedback, and you’re willing to work on those sticking points. If you’re unsure what the feedback means, this will also provide clarification.

In addition to online learning or digital grading, this is an excellent exercise for improving your overall communication skills. Asking for clarification on how you can improve is a useful skill for both professional and personal relationships.

Student sitting on the floor at home writing

3. Be appreciative: Thank them for their feedback

Always remember to thank someone for their feedback; it’s one way of saying, “thank you for being interested in my success.” By thanking your instructor for their feedback, you’re saying that you appreciate their effort and the time it took them to offer suggestions.

Even if you don’t necessarily agree with the feedback, it’s always important to say thank you. These words build a positive relationship when seeking and creating open lines of communication.

4. Analyze your work: Determine which feedback is useful

As we mentioned previously, to be genuinely receptive to this learning experience, you’ll need to view your work from an outside perspective.

Even if you’re feeling hurt by the criticism, it’s vital to tackle feedback without bias and recognize this as an experience to grow. Ask yourself: if you were an instructor grading this assignment, what would your feedback look like to you? You may find you would have given the same advice to yourself.

While reviewing your assignment, determine which feedback is useful and which feedback is useless. When it comes to digital grading, there’s a high chance that all of the feedback provided is useful for improving your work. When an instructor uses online grading software, they can provide meaningful feedback clearly and concisely.

Optional: Requesting an extension and COVID stress relief

This academic year is tough for students enrolled in online learning. Without the ability to discuss assignments with instructors in person, students feel more anxious about the feedback they receive.

While this step is optional, an extension can help give you more time to implement changes effectively. If you’re able to recognize that the current due date might not be possible and ask for an extension well before, it shows you’re making an effort to use your instructor’s feedback constructively.

Asking for an extension can also help you feel less overwhelmed, which is especially important for COVID stress relief. The changes in education practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic have already made learning difficult for some students. No one wants to make a student’s experience harder than it already is.

Fortunately, giving and receiving meaningful feedback and communicating openly and professionally are made possible by online grading software.

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5. Implement changes: Use the feedback to improve your work

Once you’ve determined which points are most important, you can begin using the feedback to improve your work. These changes may vary from minor adjustments to major rewrites. Regardless of their size, these changes will improve not only your current assignment but all your future assignments as well.

Moving forward, you’ll be able to make these changes before you submit homework. Also, you will show your instructor that you heard their feedback and utilized their suggestions.

The reward of effective learning is just as valuable as an improvement on a grade, and often the two go hand in hand. Never forget to reflect on where you started, push yourself to do and be better, and know that each project can’t be perfect. Failing forward is the best way to achieve real growth.