It’s my feedback and I’ll cry if I want to

pink cry

Working in a relatively assessment-less field (we rarely, if ever, I dare say, as librarians, formally assess students at my institution), it’s easy for me to forget the torment of submitting work informally, just for it to be ripped to shreds by a lecturer.  I suppose my situation is made awkward by the fact that my current educational endeavours are being measured by people I often work or collaborate with in my role as an academic librarian, but then again, it’s quite convenient to be the person in charge of purchasing books for my own course…

For the past seven-ish months, I’ve been ever-so-slowly progressing through my Developing Education Practice module in which I’ve had to produce an action research proposal with which I’ll (eventually) have to translate into a research report.  I think my attitude and procrastination throughout the module are best summed up in the scene from Wet Hot American Summer where Andy (Paul Rudd) reluctantly cleans up after himself in the mess hall.  Don’t get me wrong- I think action research is interesting and I’ve been excited about using it in conjunction with the LSP sessions I’ve been running, but I’ve found the process of producing a quality proposal challenging.

There’s nothing like sitting through multiple tutorials in which you are called out on all of your BS, nonsensical ramblings to put you in your place about what you have, and in my case have NOT, accomplished throughout the module thus far.  That being said, feedback is important, if not crucial to developing as a student, and therefore I thought it might be worth discussing some points (for myself, if anything) to keep in mind about receiving feedback and how to use it to your own advantage.

  1. Don’t take it personally
    Your lecturer is not having a go at you, your intelligence, or your ability to produce quality work- they are trying to ensure that you’re able to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding in a format that can be examined and measured with regard to the module competencies and criteria.  If anything, they’re checking to make sure that the way they are teaching matches their intended outcomes for the module they worked so hard on to be validated and included as part of the course.  If you’re not showing them that you understand, that’s feedback to them about how they deliver the course- which is (should be) highly important to them.
  2. Be prepared for your confidence to take a beating
    Much like the previous point, it is vital that you remember that your lecturer is on your side, or, if anything, on the side which results in you writing a good paper.  You’ve got to remember that it’s okay to not always arrive fully formed or perfect in your writing.  As a professional who doubles as a student, I’m used to being the one telling others that they’ll be alright and that their work will come together, so when I’m suddenly on the opposite end of that conversation, it’s easy to feel vulnerable.  I think it’s moments like that where you have to remember that you DO understand the content you’re dealing with and that, even though you may not have it packaged up nicely yet, you’ll eventually figure out how to express yourself- and when you do, it’s going to be brilliant.
  3. Start owning it.
    We all have certain deficits or weaknesses in our skill sets.  I write long, convoluted sentences and often struggle with making the leap from conversational “talk” in my head to intelligible writing in my assignments.  I agonise over sentences as though I’m writing legal documents and often waste hours hand-writing my essays because otherwise, I’ll stare at a blank screen.  If it weren’t for the critical guidance and support of my lecturers, I’d likely continue to shortchange myself (and my marks) by submitting work that was unclear and overcomplicated.  Having a lecturer who will point out your skill “flaws” helps you be more honest with yourself and encourages you to address the issues you struggle with.
  4. Realise that you’d do the same
    When you start to wonder if your lecturer is just “out to get you,” or that they are just trying to find things to be critical about, stop and think about how you would treat the situation if you were the one reviewing it.  I’ve got an eagle eye for typos (as long as they aren’t mine) and often litter any article I read with annotations questioning how statements fail to meet the authors stated objectives.  I think that when we read someone else’s work, it’s easy to pick up on mistakes or make suggestions because we’re not invested in the work the same way we are as authors.  Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that someone else reading your work may be able to pick up on idiosyncrasies you overlooked- but that’s a good thing!  After all, what’s more embarrassing than submitting work with avoidable mistakes?!
  5. (don’t) Follow blindly
    Ultimately, your work is just that- YOUR work.  If, after meeting for a tutorial and revising your work, you feel like you’ve lost your “voice,” it may be worth thinking about the difference between seriously considering the points made by your lecturer and merely making changes to work in an attempt to appease or avoid confrontation.  Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you should completely disregard the suggestions made, but rather, you should think about how the advice given could enhance your message and help you better express the points you are attempting to discuss.  This is why meeting your lecturer for a tutorial is infinitely better than just submitting your work and hoping for the best.  Discussing your work with your lecturer also allows you to communicate your understanding, thoughts and ideas of the content in an alternative way that may not be apparent in your writing.
  6. Think of the alternative
    About half way through receiving critical feedback, it’s easy to start thinking about how much you wish your lecturer would just back off and let you figure out the best way to proceed with your work, but it’s precisely this point that should be thanking your lucky stars that this person (who will likely evaluate the finished product) has taken time to review your work and offer support.  As students, we neglect to consider the time and effort that goes into the feedback process, let alone how that process extends not only to us, but to the rest of the students on the module.  We’re responsible for producing one piece of work, while our lecturers are responsible for both reading and providing adequate, quality feedback for ALL of it.  So, although you may feel like you’re being raked over the coals, try to imagine the alternative where you can’t even get your lecturer to reply to an email about page numbering.

Let’s face it- receiving negative or challenging feedback about our work is difficult- whether it’s part of a graded, summative assessment or a project we’re involved in professionally.  We become attached and personally invested in the content we produce, and therefore, when it doesn’t appear to meet the expectations of others, our pride and confidence may feel fragile and fractured.  To me, this is just part of learning and developing.  Of course it isn’t always easy- but how do we ever truly expect to master our discipline without encountering moments by which our knowledge and understanding is shaken to its core, leaving us wondering, contemplating, and ruminating on something deeper?  Without feedback, we further isolate ourselves and our development- a concept far worse, to me, than an uncomfortable 30 minutes with a lecturer who, ultimately, wants to see us succeed.

Crying Girl, available at: Hot American Summer (2002) is owned by Universal Studios and the image available from will be removed upon request by owner.

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