LEARNING TO USE FEEDBACK HELPS PREPARE LATINO STUDENTS

Latino students often evaluate another person’s work in light of whether they like that person, and they often interpret feedback received as a measure of how much the critic likes them. They must learn that, in higher education, the evaluation of academic work is primarily based on the merit of the contents. Hispanic students are better prepared for college if they know how to receive, give and use feedback objectively.

Feedback processes built into middle and high school syllabi help Hispanic students learn to receive criticism and guidance as part of learning. If teachers provide ample written feedback to students soon after work is submitted and schedule in-person time to meet and discuss progress and answer questions, the Hispanic student’s fear of criticism will dissipate as he understands that feedback is not a personal putdown of abilities or ideas. One key to a productive, comfortable feedback meeting is to structure it so that the student asks for feedback. This shifts the dynamic from the Latino student being told by the teacher what is right or wrong to that same student seeking honest input for self-improvement. The control over and responsibility for the work shifts from teacher to student in a subtle, powerful way. After a few in-person meetings, the student will look forward to the feedback offered.
Latino students benefit from coaching on how to receive and use feedback. Instructors might initially schedule personal meetings with the students during class periods to help them build the feedback-seeking habit. In opening each meeting, inform them that it is their time to dis-cuss, share, ask questions or seek guidance. It might take a few sessions before a student relaxes and seeks feedback, so getting them that far is significant. Through the instructor’s reassurance that the feedback is not personal and that discussion is a way to understand the student’s feed-back. At the end of each feedback meeting, ask the student to recap what was said and list steps for improvement. At the next meeting, follow up on those issues and inquire about the steps taken. Using a structured, comfortable approach allows the student to question his own performance and use the support offered him.

The delivery of instructor feed-back – how, where, when and what is said – is the other key to making it useful to Latino students. Frame all feedback positively, first noting strengths and later areas for improvement. Remind the student that making changes is their choice and that the choice will improve their work (and possibly raise the grade, too). Comments stated as observations (“I noticed that you often talked about current research, which is good”) with input for improvement (“and your paper would be even stronger if you cited the actual research you are referring to, using APA style”) keeps the student listening and thinking ahead. The Hispanic student will see the mutual investment in getting it right.
As with teaching many Latino students, use metaphors when offering feedback. (“Using an outline to write a paper is like drawing out plays for the football game. It tells you what comes next and makes for better playing.”) By contextualizing the feedback, the instructor helps the Hispanic student use it more readily. Allowing ample time, being patient and checking if the feedback was heard, understood and accepted accommodates differences in learning and communication styles. If tension mounts in a discussion or a struggle with the student seems imminent, reschedule for another time, then return later to calmly finish the process. End every feedback session with an opportunity for the student to ask further questions and set the agenda for the next meeting. This reinforces that the teacher remains the guide, but the student ultimately bears the responsibility for doing the work.
The feedback loop is invaluable in reinforcing for Latino students the idea that learning is interactive, ongoing and exciting. The teacher who takes time to listen and offer support provides validation for the Hispanic student. And the role modeling that occurs in the process out-distances any syllabus, assignment or letter grade given to the work. It engages the Latino student and gives him personal power and responsibility in learning.