Good Feedback Causes Thinking!

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Over recent weeks we have been recruiting and training UFA Associates who will support the delivery of our very successful Peer Tutor Training programme. Bringing together eighteen professionals from across the country is an exciting development for us, however what I hadn’t anticipated were the thought provoking conversations I had with a number of these new colleagues during breaks in training.

It’s interesting as a trainer you can usually tell when your group is off task, you hear conversations about the weather, chocolate or perhaps sport. However during our Associate training off task conversations were about learning, educational theory, the work of Ron Berger, Stephen Covey, John Hattie and many others.

One such conversation about feedback got me thinking about how we use this term and the process of feeding back to others. There are a number of definitions in a variety of dictionaries which I find fascinating, it certainly appears that this term can have a variety of meanings. Feedback can be a reaction to a product or a person’s performance, which is then used as the basis for improvement. It can however also be that ear piercing noise when a microphone and amplifier are in close proximity.

This made me think about how feedback can sound to a young person, is it sometimes uncomfortable for them to hear? I guess this is dependent on how it is delivered, which throws down a challenge to us to ensure feedback is delivered in an appropriate way.  It also raised the question for me, do we allow young people enough time to act on feedback?  In order to give good quality feedback we also need to provide sufficient time for a young person to respond we would then have ‘feedback and feed forward’.  Giving young people high quality feedback plus more opportunity to take on board comments, may prevent feedback sounding like an awful noise in their ears.  To achieve this I believe feedback should have a proper structure based on questioning with dedicated time to respond, so that it achieves the desired goal.

Models of feedback in the media aren’t particularly helpful.  X Factor’s Simon Cowell’s harsh and often personal criticism, Craig Revel Horwood’s acid tongued feedback on Strictly and Paul Hollywood’s sarcastic tone when wishing Bake Off contestants good luck having just asked about their ingredients are just a few examples.  Their feedback styles aren’t necessarily conducive to improvement either as they often result in the adults in receipt of their comments being reduced to tears! However others consider it entertainment. I prefer other methods of feedback which are, hard on content but soft on people.

Dylan William describes ego involving feedback and task involving feedback, and highlights the negative impact ego involving feedback can have, however his key message for me is that:

‘good feedback causes thinking’

Our UFA Peer Tutor programme focusses on positive language which supports improvement and provides a frame which allows feedback to be:

Kind and honest

Kind is all very well but it needs to be honest too. Young people won’t make progress if we are saying things are great when they are not. Focusing on the work and not the young person, depersonalising comments and avoiding statements like ‘you haven’t’, rephrase this to ‘it should have been’ will do this. The use of questions is also a good approach as questions are less threatening than statements. They are much easy to hear and then subsequently act upon.

Constructive and helpful

A good way to do this is to phrase feedback with ‘so that’ at the end. This way you are explaining why your feedback is helpful. Begin your sentences with an adverb so that it makes more of an impact plus your sentences are more varied.


The more precise feedback is the easier it is to act upon. Focus in on detail and offer specific advice for improving these details. For example can you think of an alternative word to strange? When feedback is as specific as this it is almost impossible not to act on it.

If we adopt this approach hopefully we avoid young people wanting to shield their ears from feedback and support them to listen, change, learn and grow.

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