Aug 20

Which is More Effective – Positive or Negative Feedback?

August 20th, 2018 by Austin Butler

Imagine a time where your received glowing feedback from a co-worker or supervisor.

Whether written or verbal, public or private, positive feedback feels good to receive, doesn’t it?

Now, imagine a time where you received harsh constructive criticism.

While it likely didn’t feel as good to receive, constructive criticism is often more useful. It helps us identify weaknesses and learn from our mistakes.

As teachers, giving a combination of both positive and negative feedback is essential.

But what’s the right balance? And when is one more effective than the other?

Luckily, there is a robust and growing body of research to help teachers answer these exact questions and more.

This week we’ve compiled findings from many of these studies so that you don’t have to.

Check out the key takeaways below to make sure that you’re using feedback to create a healthy learning environment and to help students succeed.

Positive – Negative – Positive Sandwich

When it comes to giving students a combination of positive and negative feedback, it’s best to sandwich the negative between two positives.

The initial piece of positive feedback primes the listener to be receptive and the final piece leaves him or her on a good note.

With this positive casing, students are more likely to implement the negative feedback in the middle.

This is a particularly effective way to write report card comments (and it works just as well for parents as students).

4:1 Positive to Negative Ratio

The human brain is much more likely to hold on to and even obsess over negative feedback as opposed to positive feedback.

That said, in order to have students really process both types of reviews, you’ll likely need to give more positive feedback.

Experts recommend a 4:1 ratio between positive and negative feedback.

If a student did an overall good job on a paper but there was one main area for improvement, make sure to leave several positive comments as well to help balance things out.

Positivity Boosts Engagement

Studies have found that in teams where managers focus on employee strengths, 67% of employees report feeling engaged and valued.

On the flip side, in teams where managers focused on weaknesses, only 14% of employees report feeling engaged.

The bottom line? How you use feedback in the classroom determines the overall climate.

If you want students to be engaged learners, it’s important to build a safe and positive learning space where students feel valued.

An easy start? Instead of redirecting student behavior by telling kids what they’re doing wrong, try changing behaviors by narrating what other students are doing right.

Josh, stop shouting out!” try, “I love how Cameron quietly raised his hand.”

Just watch how quick students are to be the recipients of this positive feedback.

Tailor Feedback To Skill Level

It might seem counterintuitive, but research indicates that when someone is a novice at something they require more positive feedback.

Once someone becomes an expert, though, negative feedback becomes more palpable and important.

Given this rule, when students are just starting off with a new skill, they need the confidence boost provided by positive feedback in order to persevere through something challenging.

Once a student has mastered a skill and has plenty of confidence, that’s where negative feedback becomes more useful. It can push the student to take their abilities to the next level, without destroying his self-esteem.

Public vs. Private

It’s also a good idea to provide public and private feedback in different ways.

Having your work praised in front of peers feels good (assuming you’re not painfully shy).

Having your project heavily critiqued in front of an audience, on the other hand, can multiply the discomfort of getting negative feedback.

In fact, remembering experiences that were socially painful caused participants to experience more pain than remembering experiences that were physically painful.

The takeaway? Keep negative feedback private.

Conferencing one on one with students about their work is a great way to give targeted constructive feedback without having a child experience public anxiety.

Make it Timely

Whether feedback is positive, negative, or a mix, the more immediate it is, the better.

Several studies have found that students who were given feedback on their work immediately showed a much larger jump in performance than those who received delayed feedback.

With a quick turnaround time on feedback, students are able to think through their weaknesses while the work is still fresh in their heads.

Quick feedback, though, is time-consuming.

Take advantage of the plethora of online learning platforms that provide students with real-time feedback on their work. Then, think carefully about which assignments you want to provide specific feedback on.

With a little tweaking, you can make sure that all of your feedback drives learning and keeps students happy and engaged.


6 responses to “Which is More Effective – Positive or Negative Feedback?”

  1. Michael L. says:

    I am a student and I personally thought that this was actually worth my time reading as I am training to be a teacher.

  2. Olatunde says:

    Great read. Helps a lot.

  3. Michael Carter says:

    I would have to say negative. Even though on Nitro type when I sent something negative, they didn’t quite take well 😛

  4. sapphire says:

    Hey i do that at school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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