Reading the first Faculty Focus article of the new year, “Is Praise Undermining Student Motivation?” caused me to rethink one of my long-held beliefs, the idea that it’s important to start a student comment by pointing out positives, then add the constructive feedback, and end on a positive and encouraging note. Effective Commenting 101, right? Well, apparently not. According to Orlando,
The model is used under the belief that it keeps up the student’s spirits, but in reality it only confuses the message. The student reads only the positive at either end and ignores the real message in the middle that they need to hear in order to improve, or they recognize the dissonance between the conflicting messages and wonder how they really did. “Gee,” they say to themselves, “the beginning and the end tell me this is great, while the middle says that there are all sorts of problems, so which is it?” The feedback sandwich can even reduce respect for the instructor since students will soon learn that no matter what they hand in, the instructor will praise it along a predictable formula, making the feedback meaningless and something to be ignored.
The trick, apparently, is to praise the process rather than the product, the effort rather than the ability that went into the assignment. It’s all about seeing praise not as motivation but as a way to encourage student growth.
What do you think? Do you use the feedback sandwich model? How/where/when do you give feedback? What works for you and your students?