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Usable Knowledge

The Importance of Feedback

How teachers can help students receive and learn from comments and critiques
Positive and negative reviews

Teachers know that it’s often not a question of if students will get stuck when working on a creative project but when. To help reimagine the classroom as a space in which students can look to each other, and not just the teacher, for feedback and inspiration, a team of researchers at the Creative Computing Lab, including Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Karen Brennan, Ph.D. student Paulina Haduong, and alums Mary Adelaide Williamson, Laura Peters, Sara Smolevitz, and Brian Yu, released an intermediate computer programming curriculum, Getting Unstuck. The curriculum was also co-designed and has been tested by teachers

“I believe very profoundly in the power of learning with and from others,” says Brennan. “It’s incredibly exciting to have your work seen by others, to have others respond to it. And in some ways, we don’t necessarily make as much space as we might in the classroom for that.” 

However, as Brennan observes, one of the greatest obstacles to creative work is fear — fear of being wrong, fear of not looking smart in front of others — so receiving feedback from others can feel overwhelming. To help build a community that can learn together and from one another, the design team intentionally included activities that allow students to practice giving, receiving, and making sense of feedback about their projects. These activities can be done in pairs, small groups, or with the whole class. Students can give both verbal and written feedback. A few of those activities include:

  • Red, Yellow, Green: Students receive feedback from three peers. Each peer provides something they’d change, something they wondered about, and something they liked. The student must then decide what they will work on next, based on the feedback they received.
  • Hearts and Stars: Students share one thing they like about a project. Have them try using the sentence starter “I like the way you… because…” Then, students share one thing the project’s creator could try. Have them start their feedback with “Something you could do next is…”
  • Gallery Walk: Students walk around the classroom and show their project to a classmate. The project sharer tells their partner something they like about their own work and a question they have about it. The feedback giver then shares something they like and something they’re wondering about. Students switch roles then move on to find a new partner.

Making Sense of It All

Once students have received feedback, the next challenge is interpreting that feedback and using it to spark the next step in the project. Yet students often receive conflicting feedback about their projects. Some of their peers may really like an element of the work while others might not be as crazy about it. According to Brennan, this is a key moment.

“Part of being a creative agent in the world is making sense of the feedback you get — listening to other people’s opinions, making sense of those, taking what is going to be helpful for you, and put aside that which is not helpful,” she says. “In those moments, kids are making sense of the world and advancing their learning and thinking.”

Key Takeaways

  • When doing creative work, students will get stuck. Providing feedback on a draft is one of many ways to help students find a path forward.
  • Students may need to practice giving feedback to cultivate a supportive learning community.
  • Feedback may often be conflicting. Give students time to reflect and evaluate what their peers share with them about their work. Let them decide what they will keep and what they will put aside.

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