Learning From Written Feedback
During your time in college, receiving feedback on assignments is an important part of your educational journey. Feedback is not only a measure of how well you completed an assignment; it ultimately is a tool that can help you reflect and grow academically. Yet oftentimes engaging with feedback can be a daunting task, especially if there is some amount of sensitivity toward seeing negative feedback. It can be difficult to remember that negative or constructive feedback isn’t about you as a person, and is a tool for your reflection, growth, and learning. Below we offer strategies and practices for preparing yourself for written feedback with the purpose of growth and learning in mind.
Note: Office hours are also referred to as student hours.
What to do when receiving feedback
- Prepare yourself emotionally. Looking at your comments on an assignment can elicit sensitive reactions; a lot of people can feel that their assignments are an extension or representation of the ability/intelligence of a person. In reality, your academic performance at any given time is not demonstrative of your abilities. Other factors have to be considered, such as your busy-ness and schedule, mental health ups and downs, lack of familiarity with the subject material, etc.
- Put the feedback into perspective. The feedback is a commentary on what you were able to produce at one specific point in time, under one specific set of circumstances – it is not a commentary on your abilities as a whole right now or in the future. Remember that if you already knew all that there is to know, or if you had already mastered all the skills of your field, you would not be in college.
- Consider the instructor’s feedback style. Each instructor will approach feedback a bit differently. Some will offer specific advice on how to improve a piece of writing or work (i.e., writer-based comments) and others may engage the work from the perspective of a reader–asking clarifying questions or sharing what they experience while reading the work (i.e., reader-based comments). Some might use rubrics or criteria to evaluate the work (criterion-based feedback), and others still might have subjective suggestions, including comments on style, wording, or directions you could consider taking. It’s okay for you to have your own style, subjective preferences, and sense of direction, and to disagree with the instructor. If you’re ever unsure about what the instructor is proposing or suggesting in their written comments, email them to ask or visit them during office hours.
- Remember that what we intended to do isn’t always clear to others. Sometimes what we intended to write isn’t always what we actually wrote. This is especially common in drafts, but it happens to everyone, including your instructors! If it seems like your instructor may have misinterpreted your intention, feel free to ask them about it and explain what you were going for. Either way, receiving this kind of feedback can still be helpful because it shows us what the reader understood (or misunderstood!), and can help us clarify the writing and/or argument.
- Take your time. Sometimes, your very first reaction to receiving criticism might be to be defensive and pessimistic. In these moments, it can be helpful to review your feedback and then stow it away, and look back at it later with a clear head.
- Find the prompt/rubric and read it through again. Looking at your feedback and the prompt/rubric side by side, do you understand why you got the comments that you received? Do you understand what was and was not satisfactory? If yes, make a list of things to work on or remember for the next assignment. If not, consider going to office hours to ask questions.
- Identify what’s working. Taking a page out of creative writing workshops, try to identify something in your written assignment that is working or exemplifies one of your strengths. Keep this in mind when processing other constructive or seemingly negative feedback. There is always something to build on!
- Prepare for office hours. Create a list of questions. Your instructors (i.e. professors, TAs, lab assistants) want you to attend office hours to improve your work! So don’t be afraid to follow up. You can refer to the CEP's Guide to Office Hours and Guide to Office Hours 2.0 (for the later years of college).
What if I don’t understand the feedback?
- Go to office hours to seek clarification. This is what office hours are for!
- Try to read your comments and identify areas in the assignment that relate to the comments made. Try to understand what the level of learning that is expected for each grade. This is also something you can ask your instructors to explain when you meet with them.
- Find and identify resources that can help you improve. Perhaps you can look for peer-to-peer tutoring (such as the Writing, Speaking, Science Writing, and Computing Fellows); find a website; a YouTube channel; or a book to supplement the resources outlined in the syllabus
- Get help and build a study plan (the CEP provides one-on-one consultations with students to structure and support study plans). Check out the CEP’s resource on Studying for Memory and Comprehension as well, which includes links to study plan templates!
- This feedback is not meant to evaluate you as a person.
- There is no such thing as a perfect assignment; there will always be room for improvement and/or more to consider.
- It is perfectly okay to disagree with the feedback. Keep in mind that your disagreement could be a difference in style or sense of direction or it could be a misunderstanding between you and your instructor that requires some further discussion or clarification. After all, we’re all human!
- Store your feedback somewhere and refer back to it later on. This can especially be helpful for feedback you receive in your major/minor courses.
- Try to incorporate the feedback/do some of the work before your next assignment is due. Give yourself enough time to learn from the feedback and apply it to the next assignment.
- Look at the positive feedback too!