Be, Kind, Specific and Helpful. These are the three basic rules outlined in Ron Berger’s “Austin’s Butterfly” model when critiquing others and specifically when critiquing our peers. Coauthor of Creating a Culture of Feedback, Bill Ferriter said “When students receive critical feedback on their work or performance, “their gut reaction is to push back against that feedback, to try to defend themselves in some way, shape or form.” The visceral reaction is a byproduct of the evaluative nature of schools. Most feedback that’s given to kids is an assessment of some kind and provided by an authority figure, whether that’s a parent, coach, or a teacher. “We judge everything our students do in a quest for data intervention, and accountability and that’s super unhealthy.” As a result, when students are placed in a peer feedback situation, even if the input they get is constructive, “they’re looking to get out of it as quickly as possible.” Ferrieter believes the best way to head off that “gut reaction” is to strip away any judgment attached to feedback. We need to make sure that kids feel safe and that [peer feedback] is a positive experience.
“Wording things kindly is not only the right thing to do, but it’s a more effective way to do it.” By using “I” statements when giving feedback, students will begin to replicate that kind of inquiry and recognize it as a gentle nudge and personal opinion rather than a global statement that assumes that you’re right about them all.
The second rule of peer critique is that is has to be specific. One reason people tend to provide generic feedback is because they don’t always know what criteria to focus on. So feedback should home in on “any small part of the bigger whole that you’re working in.” When working with students, they need “rich and deep conversations” and plenty of practice to know how to give “thoughtful, specific feedback about one dimension of the work,” says Berger.
The third and final rule of critique is that it has to be helpful. If we provide examples of what helpful critique looks like, students will pick up the language of feedback and they will get better at it over time.
Researcher John Hattie places educator feedback in the top 15 of 195 practices that affect student learning and achievement. But for feedback to be successful, Hattie argues that it has to be timely and directive. Ron Berger also stated that “ Once you’ve taught students how to be really strong at peer critique–how to focus on one dimension of the work; how to be kind, specific, and helpful; how to push people the right amount–then kids will not only do it in formal critique sessions, but they’ll start supporting each other’s work all the time.” With the fear of judgment eliminated, “kids will be sitting at tables with other kids and [freely] leaning in to give critique.”
I encourage everyone when giving feedback or critique on something or to someone, that you remember the basic guidelines. Be Specific, Helpful and above all be Kind.