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Whether you call it constructive criticism or feedback, the errors you point out to students, will be subject to their perception.  Therefore, it is important to find ways to help your students receive and manage feedback. It will not only benefit them but will also help keep the lines of communication open between you and your class.  However, it would help if they understood the meaning of constructive criticism or feedback.

Set aside time to discuss constructive criticism

Depending on the level you teach, many students may not understand or even have heard of constructive criticism.   The word construction as it relates to building houses could be used as a starting point. As with people, it could be used as building them up.

The time used on teaching students the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism (insults), will not be wasted. It will be more than made up later when your students learn from the constructive feedback you give them.

Practice turning negative comments into constructive comments

 Of course, modeling constructive criticism for the class will also be helpful. By sharing a few of the examples from the media or other sources, students can easily see and hear destructive criticism.  You can instead show students how to turn some of that into constructive criticism which is meant to be helpful.  This can be also be done by pointing out some negative classroom comments. You can practice changing them to more constructive comments.

For example, take this imaginary insult: “The answer wasn’t even close.”  Instead, a person could respond and be helpful: “Did you hear the question right?  I am wondering what other thoughts you might have on the subject.”  Both are much more constructive, and the student can more usefully manage the criticism.

Teach students that constructive criticism is not to be taken personally 

Since most students will hear more destructive than constructive criticism in their life, they will need to learn not to take it personally. Constructive criticism is meant to help them with something they may have control over and can change.  It is not meant to hurt them personally, which is usually what destructive criticism tries to do.

Give students an example in which they receive constructive feedback.  For example, say: “I know you are capable of doing better.”  Explain to students that the comment is constructive because they are in control and can do better. Especially when the teacher knows he or she is more capable of doing so.

Use Examples

Many athletes, movie stars, and famous figures have been criticized constructively and otherwise. They have used the criticism as motivation to reflect on their faults, mistakes, or shortcomings.  Following their reflection, they set new goals, practice harder, or make other changes in their life.


For example, the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, received criticism suggesting that kids were no longer interested in books with wizards.  She could have changed the subject of her books, but she overcame the criticism. She became a successful author read by millions and millions of people.

Get in the habit of using constructive criticism in your teaching

There is a fine line between helping and hurting a student when you need to be critical of their work.

Encourage your students to use constructive criticism with their peers, especially during times students work together.  This environment becomes ripe for understanding and respect. It builds a healthy camaraderie that will be valuable throughout the students’ school years and beyond.

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