Monday, July 01, 2013


IMHO or Why give constructive criticism?

I recently had a brutally honest day. I was asked to review a new book coming out and write a blurb for the back cover. The title was something I was interested in, so I agreed. As I read along in a chapter about change, I came across the line. “Everyone knows that teachers, especially, are resistant to change.” Hold on! This book was written for educators– why dis' them in the text? And who is “everyone” and why are teachers more resistant to change than anyone in a different profession? I re-wrote the sentence to be less insulting.

As I read on in the technology sections, the exemplar lessons were pretty much the lowest level of technology use. The assessments were used to inform instruction but did not gauge student acquisition of content knowledge at all.

So, as I found things that I felt could be made better and more meaningful to the proposed audience, I jotted them down and included additional ideas, quotes, and links to resources. I sent them along to the editor with a note stating I did not feel comfortable offering a blurb for the book because I did not believe in many of the tenets that were put forth. It was probably too late to do anything about the content, because the book looked like it was in its final form, but I felt compelled to do it.

The same day, I was sent a lesson planning white paper that was released by a company. It was already on the Web. However, there were no author credentials on the pages and, since it was pedagogical in nature, I wanted to know that someone who was (or had been) a K-12 educator had written the piece. It was also a bit “preachy”, so I reworked one of the paragraphs to something a bit different, without changing the content. I sent my thoughts along to them.

I guess the point is, in education, where others sometimes tell us things we don’t agree with or we feel would never work in a regular classroom setting,  it is up to us to give constructive feedback when you see something that you don’t like or don’t agree with.

The important thing is to provide something other than simply writing “that sentence seems to put down the whole teaching profession”. Re-write the content so it will not be demeaning to teachers and will  make the teachers take more notice and continue reading the book or article. Provide links to resources that are, in your opinion, more appropriate   than the samples that are provided in the article, book chapter, Tweet, or GOOGLE+ post.

This goes for educational trends, too. Although it sometimes seems, IMHO,  educators jump on lots of bandwagons for new pedagogical models, I don’t always initially agree with the idea or the implementations of the new idea. I read about it, look at successful practices, and then comment, constructively (I hope!) about it. For instance, I passionately disagreed with this blog post about turning Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy on its head.  In this case, I publicly disagreed in the comment area, but oftentimes I may just write to the blogger directly and offer some alternatives for her/him to think about.

Following are some links about constructive feedback and criticism. Most are not directly related to education or even the online realm, but you should garner some good ideas. As with anything you are passionate about, you need to wait a few minutes before posting a bit of constructive feedback to someone else. Passion in print comes across differently than passion in person, so you have to plan your responses carefully. Write a draft, look it over, take a walk, and then push the send button.
We need to encourage constructive discourse in our profession. I also feel we should to step back and think about all aspects of a plan or trend before becoming enamored with the idea just because everyone else is. Maybe parts of the new concept are useful to help students acquire both the 21st century skills and the content knowledge they need. But, perhaps other parts of the new idea won’t work in your situation and you have already discovered alternative methods that work well. You need to share those alternative ideas with the rest of us!

Don’t be afraid to constructively criticize and don’t be afraid to be criticized, which you might be. If you are passionate about something or think something is not quite right about an aspect of education, write the company, the blogger, the Tweeter, the President, and let them know. Sometimes people just don’t know what they don’t know!

Do you have any specific thoughts on ways to give online constructive criticism/feedback? There are not a lot of good ideas out there…please share via Twitter (@kathyschrock), Google+, or email me at!