Learning from feedback

Feedback isn’t simply about someone telling you what you did right or wrong – it's a process in which you reflect on your past performance and take action to improve future performance.

As students and professionals, we need to learn to appreciate feedback and understand our role in the process; manage our feelings and adopt a growth mindset; and develop capacity to evaluate our own work.

Why should I engage with feedback?

Feedback helps you learn by explaining:

  1. what you are doing well;
  2. what you need to improve; and
  3. how you need to improve.

How should I engage with feedback?

Watch University of Melbourne academics share their perspectives on feedback, including how to take a proactive approach towards applying feedback you may not agree with yet!

Hear how academic staff engage with feedback.

How can a growth mindset help me engage with feedback?

Feedback is the key to improving because it identifies what we are doing well and what we need to work on. Taking a positive approach towards feedback is an example of having a growth mindset, as developed by psychologist Carol Dweck.

Key features and impacts of a growth mindset:

  • Believing that you can improve your learning approach and outcomes through dedication and perseverance.
  • Seeing challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • Tendency to learn more easily from others and celebrate their achievements.

You may find that you have a fixed mindset when it comes to receiving or giving feedback.

Key features and impacts of a fixed mindset:

  • Believing that your abilities are fixed; that you cannot develop your intelligence or skills. In doing so, you will probably not engage with constructive criticism.
  • Tendency to avoid challenges, give up without applying much effort and have difficulty in celebrating the success of others.

If you notice you have a fixed mindset about the feedback you’ve received, that’s a great observation. You can change your mindset and by welcoming the feedback you’ve received and learn new strategies.

What if I don't understand the feedback?

If you don’t understand the feedback or you don’t agree with it, go back to the task documentation, try to find other examples of work, and connect with your peers, tutors and Academic Skills.

Read the comments on your work

Look for both positive and developmental comments, noting any main ideas or themes, for example those that are repeated . As you read, remember, these are not personal – they are about the piece of work you submitted, not you and your ability.

Review the task documentation

Re-read the task brief to remind yourself what you were asked to do. Then, if you have one, look at the rubric. This will describe what quality is expected at different bands.

For example, let’s imagine that you were given a PASS for the way you’ve integrated sources in your paper based on the descriptors from the rubric below.

H1: Systematically integrates source information synthesised with own thoughts; writer’s voice is evident

H2: Integrates source information mostly successfully; synthesis with own voice evident; at times writer’s voice may be overshadowed by external authors’ ideas

H3: Integrates sources & attempts to synthesise with own ideas though tends to rely on external ideas in sections

PASS: Integrates limited source information in the assignment; voice may be frequently subordinate to external ideas

FAIL: Fails to successfully integrate source information in the assignment; voice is not evident

First, read the description of your work (PASS), notice what you did well and what you need to work on.

Then, look at what you would have needed to show for a higher mark (H1, H2, H3).

In this case, you managed to integrate some sources into your paper (positive), but these were limited (not enough) and your writer’s voice was frequently subordinate to these external ideas (your own analysis and interpretation was lacking).

If you’re not sure about a concept mentioned in the rubric or comments, for example “writer’s voice” or “synthesising”, try to find a resource that can help explain it, or ask your tutor.

Look for examples that relate to the comments in your paper

Next, read over your paper, looking for examples relating to the feedback comments. Can you find specific evidence to show you did everything you were asked?

For example, if you needed to include more of your voice and interpretation, can you find places where this could have happened? For instance, after a citation, after a direct quote, or after a description of an issue. It might help to highlight sentences written in your voice in one colour and those written in the voices of others in another.

Find resources to help you improve

While it’s up to you to take action, you’re not expected to do it alone. You can always ask your tutor to explain their comments further and give you examples of how you might have improved.

You can also look for online resources on the Academic Skills website or make an appointment to discuss your feedback.

A good way to improve writing is to read examples of similar work. If your tutor gives you examples, read them and look out for things you know you need to work on. In this example you might highlight examples of how the writer balances voice.

Manage your feelings about feedback

Just because we know feedback helps us grow doesn’t mean we have to love receiving it – especially at first. It’s common to feel anxious about receiving feedback or frustrated about critical feedback, especially when you’ve put a lot of work into something. The most important thing is to manage these feelings so you can take action.

Tips

  • Take time away. Read it, then take a day or two to reflect on it. This will help you to be less emotional and more objective.
  • Remember that feedback is about that specific task, not you and your ability – try not to take it personally.
  • Don’t just focus on on critique. Also look at the positive feedback you're getting: what you're doing well.
  • Try not to focus on the mark, but on what is being said to you that generated that mark.
  • Review comments while looking at the rubric and task brief.
  • Pick one or two things to focus on, rather than reading all the comments if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Chat to your lecturer or tutor if you still don’t understand why you received the feedback.
  • If your thoughts and feelings are distracting you from your studies, you can seek support from the Counselling and Psychological Services at the university. Being able to respond to the strong emotions evoked by feedback is part of developing your resilience and a highly valued capacity in the workplace and for your own personal development.

Final tip

We all receive feedback - even your tutors, lecturers and employers!  This is worth remembering when you feel strongly about the feedback you got. We’ve all been there and we've all learned because of it.

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