How to turn criticism into learning

Updated: Feb 7

Help students learn how to calmly receive feedback and accept correction from teachers


A teacher's job is to help their student learn, right? But what if the feedback doesn't feel like learning? What if it feels like criticism? Here are some thoughts on turning criticism into learning.

A teacher’s job is to help their student learn, right? If you think about it, though, the feedback we provide isn’t always received in that spirit — nor delivered in a way that invites the engagement we want.


So for all those teachers out there who want the benefit of feedback without feeling the sting of any criticism (or who just want to know how to deliver their feedback more effectively) here are some thoughts on openly inviting your students to engage with you actively and immediately with your feedback...


Successful people are good at receiving feedback

As a teacher, you want your students to be able to receive feedback from you calmly and confidently. As a student, it's helpful to recognize that criticism doesn't mean the end of the world. It is important to receive feedback and be able to learn from it.

Feedback is a gift, and like any other gift, it can be graciously accepted or rejected. It's the receiver's responsibility to decide how they feel about the feedback they receive. If students are taught how to accept criticism graciously, they become more receptive to their teacher's wisdom and guidance.


They learn how to self-correct their mistakes before it's too late, which helps them progress as students and individuals. A student that is able to take criticism in stride and use it as part of a learning process often sees their grades improve over time.


Teachers are human beings who make mistakes and have ideas that may not always work out according to plan, but that doesn't discredit their ability to provide valuable insight into what students need to do in order to succeed.


Many teachers aren't given the opportunity to give constructive criticism because all of their students are too distracted by their own emotions. Teaching students how to accept feedback from teachers will help them grow as learners, even if the feedback isn't always positive.


Successful people receive feedback well and don't get defensive. They listen to what has to be said, and then they act on it.


The reason for this is simple:


They understand that negative criticism is not a judgment of their character, but rather an opportunity for growth.


They know that having weaknesses is inevitable, and that if they want to improve themselves, they need to embrace the help that is out there.


How teachers can help students learn how to receive criticism and correction

For students, receiving feedback on school work can be uncomfortable, but when they know how to properly receive constructive criticism, they become better learners.

One of the biggest challenges that many students continue to struggle with is learning how to take criticism and correction. The problem is that they are still children, and children naturally don't like being told that they are wrong, or doing something wrong. They are also used to getting praise for every correct answer and/or good behavior.


At some point though, as they transition from child to adult, students must learn how to receive criticism and correction without getting defensive or upset. They need to learn how to learn from their mistakes and improve on them, so that they can be successful in life.


This skill improves the maturity and wisdom of students, helps them learn more about themselves and about their teachers, and can potentially even help them avoid relationship conflicts with their peers.


It is important for teachers and other educators to manage their expectations with their students. It is not reasonable to expect children to automatically know how to receive criticism and correction calmly.


Teaching them how to do so has a lot more value than just helping them succeed academically. It also teaches them how they should handle themselves in various other situations throughout life as well.


Teachers play a very important role in helping students learn how to learn. While it's easy to overlook this aspect of the job, it's extremely important. Students need your help to develop an attitude of calmness and receptivity toward learned materials.


Teachers can help students learn how to calmly receive criticism and correction by:


Giving thoughtful, constructive feedback


When you provide feedback, you're sharing both positive and negative information about a student's work. It's important that your comments are detailed, encouraging, and well-reasoned so that students can clearly see their progress and where they still need development.


Using effective teaching methods


Teachers should avoid using overly complicated teaching methods in favor of simpler methods that are more likely to be accepted by their students. A good teacher will always have an alternative plan if a particular method doesn't work with his students.


Explaining negative feedback using positive words


It's very common for teachers to use words like "incorrect" or "inaccurate" when giving feedback on a student's work. One way to help students learn how to receive criticism and correction is to replace those words with others that have less harsh connotations (e.g., "mistake," "error," etc.). It seems inconsequential, but doing so helps soften, with nuanced language, the delivery of negative feedback.


Teaching students how to listen and accept correction


Trying to get students to listen and take on board what is being said by their teacher can be quite difficult and unless the right methods are used, it can be a very frustrating experience for both teachers and students alike.


But, with a bit of patience and perseverance, there are several things that you can do in order to help your students learn how to receive criticism ,and accept correction from your teaching methods.


First, ensuring that you show a genuine interest in the student's work will help them feel more relaxed about receiving feedback from you.


Second, if any student is struggling with a particular area, try to focus on the positive aspects of their work before going into any detail about what needs improving.


Also, when giving feedback or correction try not to rush through it as this will make it harder for your student to take it in.


Make sure that you give them time to respond or ask questions if needed before moving onto the next part of your lesson plan or subject matter. However, don't allow them too much time as this will waste valuable teaching time.


Back in the day, students would stand up straight, look their instructors in the eye, and speak loudly and clearly as they answered questions. But in today's world, many students are so shy and self-conscious about speaking aloud that they hide behind their desks or shuffle their feet as they answer questions.


Telling them how to sit still and raise their hands is not going to help them much. Instead, teach them how to remain calm and relaxed when receiving feedback from teachers or sharing ideas in class.


Here are a few simple things you can tell them:

  • Take a deep breath before raising your hand or speaking up. If you're breathing deeply, your body will relax, and your face will not show nervousness or anxiety. This can make it easier for students to stay confident while they're learning in class.

  • Keep an open mind before you receive feedback. No idea or concept is perfect — it needs to be refined with suggestions from others before it becomes good enough for use by most people. Don't get defensive when you hear criticism of your work; instead, try to learn from it.

  • Accept corrections graciously when someone corrects you. Don't argue with the person or become upset if he or she points out flaws in your work; instead, thank everyone who


Why it's so important to learn how to calmly receive feedback and correction from a teacher


In the modern world of education, we are increasingly hearing about "student-centered" teaching methods. In these approaches, students are viewed as active participants in their education and teachers are regarded as guides on this journey. One important aspect of student-centered teaching is a focus on self-assessment and self-correction.


The benefits of this approach are well known. Students learn how to self-correct, they develop the ability to reflect on their own performance and they gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses. They also build confidence in their abilities because they understand how to improve their work and know what to do when they make mistakes.


What does this have to do with teacher feedback? Plenty.


The more students learn how to self-assess, the less dependent they will be on the teacher for grades and assessments. They will be able to look at their own work honestly, identify where there is room for improvement, and formulate strategies for achieving it.


The teacher no longer becomes the sole source of information about a student's performance and progress but rather a facilitator who helps guide the student to understanding his or her own knowledge, skills and development through self-assessment.


We all make mistakes. Coming to terms with this, and realizing that mistakes are a natural part of learning, is a large part of growing up. One way to help students learn how to calmly receive feedback and accept correction from teachers is to help them see the importance of this in their out-of-school lives as well.


Trying when you don't know how can be a great learning experience in itself, but seeing what happens when you try and fail can be even more valuable. It's important for students to understand that not every attempt is going to be successful, but that each attempt will help them understand how to fix it the next time around.


When it comes to receiving corrections from teachers, it's important for students to learn how to take criticism without taking it personally. If a student sees a mistake, he or she should be able to tell themselves that they made a mistake without necessarily thinking that they're stupid or incompetent. They should also be able to look at the situation objectively in order to learn from the mistake and avoid making it again in the future.


Also, remember that even though teachers have an important role in helping students learn and grow, they are not perfect. Teachers will also make mistakes during class and lessons sometimes may not go as planned. And that's okay.


The point of feedback


The point of feedback is to help a student develop and grow, to move them forward. Criticizing without giving any form of actionable direction is ultimately pointless.


And we’re not just talking about grades. We need to help our students grow as people as well, which means being careful not to damage their self-esteem in the process.


Teaching professionals (including administrators and counselors) should be looking out for their students’ best interests. When they focus on the learning aspect, everyone wins.


Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your students is to provide authentic feedback for them. That way, you can work together to grow and improve. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it's worth it.