Focus on Students’ Strengths When Giving Feedback

Use a “sandwich” approach when giving feedback to students.  Start with what they did right.  Acknowledge their work, their effort, their improvement thus far.  Identify their strengths.  Finish your feedback with the same.  And in between, you can let them know areas that need improvement – errors, perhaps a need for more preparation, compensation strategies for weaknesses, etc. 

When you begin the feedback with positives, you will have the student’s attention and an open mind.  They will immediately value your opinion (after all, you are admiring them – who doesn’t look highly upon someone who admires and flatters you).   It improves the odds that the student will take your constructive criticisms then as a genuine caring attempt to help them.  You can even start chiseling away a little learned-helplessness in your most reluctant learners. 

Focusing on strengths also more closely resemble the world outside of school.  Most people are utilized in their area of strength, not weakness.  We hire people who are good at math as accountants; people who are good with their hands are utilized in trades. Those with great leadership skills are recruited to head big companies.  We place our best ball catchers at 1st base and behind home plate – our biggest athletes in sports positions that capitalize on their size and strength.  We identify and focus on strengths outside of school, but seem quick to identify weaknesses inside of school and spend a disproportionate amount of time on those.  It’s fine to acknowledge weak areas and indeed, school is one of the best places to work on those areas and try to make improvements.  But the main focus should always be on a students’ strengths and how best to use those strengths.  

Those who are the most successful in the adult world are not those who have rehabilitated all their weak areas.  Instead, they are those who know their strengths and how best to use them and are aware of their weak areas and learn to compensate for them.