(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Today I want to talk about Feedback. No, not the someone-with-a-microphone-stepped-too-close-to-the-amp kind of feedback, but what does it mean to give feedback? To receive feedback? I've also just missed blogging.

Tied into this for me are issues of privilege and varying levels of experience because when someone approaches you for feedback, that often means you're in a position of authority. You're a teacher, coach, expert in your field, or just generally someone that someone else decided they respect the opinion of. It is a matter of privilege because this often means as a person with authority you have increased access to resources. You are better networked, your education is likely further along.

Conversely, at other times, feedback is a matter between peers and it's important to treat these two different kinds of feedback differently.

As feedback from an authority figure, you have power. Your privilege as an authority figure means your reaction carries more weight. Think about receiving a paper or homework assignment back from your teacher and having it covered in red pen. As a culturally common practice, it creates such a visceral reaction that a lot of upcoming teachers are taught not to use red pens when grading.

As such, giving feedback means balancing the objective qualities that you're giving feedback on (your rubric if I may continue the education analogy) and the subjective qualities of meeting the person you're giving feedback where they're at. You wouldn't grade a kindergartner on the same rubric you would a college student.

This of course works in formal situations where you have some kind of quality scale to refer back to.

Does Danny come in to work on time? Yes, and he's usually early? Circle 4 for exceeds expectations.

Did this essay satisfy all aspect of the prompt and do so with evidence of a grade-appropriate writing capability? B+ good job.

Of course, this starts to fall apart once we give feedback on things that are a lot less objective.

Did you like reading my blog post? Well, I found the informal tone somewhat insulting and unprofessional and your choice of topic was uninteresting at best.

What did you think of this poem I wrote? I thought it amateurish at best, the kind of thing you'd find in a high school creative writing class.

These are extremely harsh, critical examples, but equally as stunting and unproductive as blindly saying "I loved it!"

If the goal of feedback is to foster growth, even if it is meant to redirect or change course, then the emphasis must remain on that growth. Specific, concrete problems that can be addressed and worked on.

Three seat, sit up straight in the boat. You might want to work on memorizing your lines better next time you're in a play. Your metaphors don't seem like they have a specific point because I'm not seeing the thesis of what you're trying to say, make that clearer.

When it comes down to it, if there isn't a set standard for what is or isn't "good" some of the best feedback you can give is to ask questions about what you like/don't like/are confused by.

And in receiving such feedback, you're also asking yourself questions in addition to attempting to answer the ones posed to you. Why isn't this working? How was I unclear? Am I doing what i was told was correct?

Because feedback is part of a dialogue, but it only works if both parties are focused on the same end goal: the continued moving forward and growth of the original project.

So... feedback anyone?