Nobody likes criticism but, as the Great Sage Mary Poppins once opined, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
By the end of my time in teaching the consensus was that you should aim for five positive comments to the little darlings for every negative one. A worthy ideal, indeed, though I’m pretty sure I never achieved that ratio myself.
I can’t even boast of satisfying Pink Floyd’s demand for no dark sarcasm in the classroom … well, when they stopped us walloping the little whelps what other weapon would work?
Just joking, aren’t I? The only time I tried to hit a kid was circa 1974 … and I missed.
One thing I was proud of, however, was my marking. Those red-pen comments of mine were miniature – and sometimes epic – minor masterpieces. At their best, they conformed to the following 4 principles.
As I said, nobody likes criticism … unless it comes in the form of suggestions for improvement on near perfection. Tell us how wonderful we are – it is, after all, no word of a lie – and we can take the truth no matter how brutal. Call us morons and we turn a deaf ear.
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
It was the very least I could do after all that heavy irony in lessons …