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Providing better student feedback: Avoid the “think hard” trap

When I was in graduate school, I often heard from professors that I should “think hard” about issues, about the literature, about how to process information, etc. I understand that there are various models of student feedback, but the phrase that absolutely makes my blood boil and want to smash tables is a request to “think hard”. “Think hard” is, in my view, the most unhelpful phrase that a professor can utter to a struggling student.

During graduate school, I had a number of instances of interaction with professors where they told me that I had to “think hard” about something, and I usually left those meeting puzzled and discombobulated, and even more confused than when I arrived.

To me, there are better ways to provide feedback to students. One of the ways in which I try to help my students think through issues is enabling them and encouraging them to spend time reflecting.

Luckily my thread resonated with fellow academics.

Hopefully, as educators, we will be able to reconsider how we provide feedback to students and peers. For example, I was reading an article this morning on how to be supportive to a grieving friend, and found the author (Celeste Headlee)’s suggestions quite helpful to consider for how I can provide feedback to students. We really owe it to them and to ourselves to improve the ways in which we provide constructive, thoughtful, well-thought-out feedback.

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