How teachers should correct children

1. Always start with the positive

Students need encouragement – being told when they are doing something well. When offering feedback, it can help the student to hear first what they have done well. It is often common for the giver of feedback to emphasize the negative. Therefore, the focus is likely to be on mistakes more often than successes. In a rush to criticize, we may overlook the things we liked. When you discuss the positives first, any negatives are more likely to be listened to and acted upon.

woman wearing red handkerchief on neck holding black microphone
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2. Be specific

Try to avoid general comments which are not useful when it comes to developing skills. Statements such as You were brilliant! or It was not so good! may be pleasant or upsetting to hear, but they don’t give enough detail to be useful sources of learning. Try to be precise about what the student did that led you to use the label of brilliant or not so good:

Brilliant: The way you introduced your point just at that moment was really helpful and enabled us to resolve that issue more quickly.

Not so good: By respondingin that way, you seemed to want to impose your opinions on the rest of the class.

Specific feedback provides more opportunities for learning.

3. Refer to behaviour that can be changed

It is of no help to give student feedback about something over which they have no choice or control; in fact, it may be frustrating and even de-motivating.

4. Seek/offer alternatives

If you do give negative feedback, then try to turn it into a learning opportunity by asking the student what he could have done differently or may do differently in a future situation. It is always better to get ideas coming from the student. However, if he is struggling to think about what he could have done differently, offer some suggestions.

5. Be descriptive rather than evaluative

This is expanding on ‘be specific’. Describing what you saw or heard or the effect it had on you is much more powerful than just giving a judgment, i.e. the way you kept calm, quiet, and focused during that situation helped everyone cope, rather than you handled that situation well.

6. Own the feedback

It’s easy to say to the student You are …, suggesting that you are offering a universally agreed opinion about her rather than an individual one. You must take responsibility for the feedback you provide. Begin with I think … or I feel that … to avoid being the giver of a general opinion which you don’t own. 

7. Leave the recipient with a choice

The feedback that demands change or is imposed on the student may invite resistance and is not consistent with a belief in each of us being personally autonomous. Skilled feedback offers students information about themselves; it leaves them with a choice about whether to act or how to act. It can help to examine the consequences of any decision to change or not to change but doesn’t involve prescribing change.

Irobiko Chimezie Kingsley is an experienced ESL teacher with an Advanced Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). He is open to employment within and outside Nigeria.