assumptions bad critics make...and teachers too?

I want to make giving constructive and timely feedback one of my teaching goals this year. Except it's hard for me to do that. As a physics major, a large part of my education was based on the idea that the objective universe provided its own feedback. Either your equations worked out and matched observable phenomena, or they didn't. If they didn't, well then, maybe physics isn't for you?

Now that I am teaching physics, there is still a lot of objective information in my courses. Did you use the accepted value for the speed of light? Did you find the correct atomic number for iron on the periodic table? But I've come to realize that this kind of objective information retrieval isn't what I want to teach and test. I want to know if my students are learning to explore and be creative problem solvers. I want to know if they are observing, finding patterns, and drawing conclusions. And so, I find I want to give feedback on much more subjective things like critical thinking processes and the ways students communicate their results.

Naturally, I turned to twitter: how can i make my feedback more constructive for my students?
I got this somewhat cryptic response:

 anne gibson 

so I searched and found some awesome resources, mostly for design students on how to be receptive to critiques of their work. But also some for people who deliver the criticism. This was the best gem of the bunch:

Assumptions bad critics make

There are four fundamental assumptions bad critics make:
  1. There is one universal and objective measure of how good and bad anything is.
  2. That the critic is in sole possession of the skill for making these measurements.
  3. Anyone that doesn’t possess this skill (including the creator of the work) is an idiot and should be ridiculed.
  4. That valid criticisms can and should always be resolved.
How many of these assumptions are present, implicitly or explicitly, in the traditional schooling experience?  
1. I know when I first started thinking about a truly differentiated classroom, it took me a while to understand that students could demonstrate the same learning goal in different ways; there wasn't just one right way to complete it.  
2. I can't be the only judge of a good product in my classroom.  Students should be able to give feedback, too, and contribute to rubrics for evaluating their work.  In the worst case scenario, a classroom where the teacher is the only judge of quality becomes an oppressive space where students try to keep teacher happy based on unpredictable criteria.  
3. I hope that no teacher sets out to ridicule students, but sometimes it happens in ways we may not realize.  Not shaming outright is easy, but being a really genuine, acceptant and empathetic teacher is hard! 
4. I think the fourth assumption may be hardest to break away from in a school.  There is a power structure involved, where the student will almost always defer to the teacher's opinion.  This would be the epitome of what we mean when we always talk about students being good self-advocates.  

In light of this, I've also been on the lookout for examples of how I do use feedback to learn things now.  I found it in my preferred learning environment, of course: video games.  Another post on that soon.  

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