Feedback: It's Not what You Think

An Extra Practice

I do what I can to create an environment where students can learn as much as possible both independently and from each other collaboratively. This has two large impacts. First, as a teacher I am mostly removed from continually correcting students. Second, as a teacher I have time to coach and guide the students when they need help and guidance, in a manner they are asking for. Teaching is much more joyful when you aren’t continually in a position of correcting and judging what is right. The classroom atmosphere is positively impacted as well.

To promote independent learning I do what I can to create learning situations (and projects) where natural feedback is integral to the learning process. Natural feedback comes about in circumstances where the student work itself produces the feedback with no dependence on the teacher. For example, while learning about designing boats, if students are printing their designs on a 3D printer, the students themselves will see how their boats float and how they react to adverse conditions, for example waves and wind. If the assignment asks students to test their boats by setting up a fan to blow across the test pool, they will see if their boat can travel across the pool without hitting the side wall or foundering. Or in math and physics students can do what we call sanity checks. Are their calculations plausible? Learning the skill of creating and learning from feedback that you control yourself is a transferable, life-worthy skill, that goes beyond the particular content of an activity or course.

To promote collaborative learning, I help students learn how to support each other by giving feedback that is easy to digest. Instead of promoting correction, I ask students to follow the Pixar additive feedback method (see the resources at the end for further information). In short, I have the following demo or presentation rules:

As a feedback giver: 1) stop and think, then 2) start with what you like and 3) say what you would like to see more of. There is no corrective feedback or discussions of what you dislike. Students (and the teacher) just offer what they would like to see more of. It’s ok, of course, if that feedback excludes some of what’s there!

As a demo presenter: 1) listen and 2) do not comment or or mount a defense to what you are hearing, but clarification questions are allowed and encouraged. After the demo, (3) stop and think; then (4) decide what suggestions to act upon and what not to act upon.

Students (and many teachers) are not very practiced at Pixar’s additive feedback, so practice is practice is essential. In fact, initially I guide all demos to ensure they learn the practices to feel safe while demoing, giving and getting additive feedback. After demos I do a quick reflection with the group to help them think through what ideas to use and what to disregard. Over time, the students get good at this and I no longer guide the demos.

When ‘natural’ feedback isn’t easy or when working with technical topics where there are multiple ways to solve a problem and when judgement is important. Then instead of emphasizing ‘additive’ feedback, I turn to Dr. Michaela Greiler (Doctor McKayla) code review guidelines in her video Respectful, Constructive Code-Review Feedback. She developed these guidelines while working at Microsoft’s Research and Development Department while studying the effects of code reviews and feedback on team performance.

I avoid the phrase “constructive feedback,” since that phrase is too often code for stating what you personally think is correct. When the teacher does that, from the position of power granted to teachers by way of assigning grades, for example, constructive feedback becomes another way to tell students what is right (according to the teacher) and what students should do. Encouraging additive feedback puts the focus on what the student is learning, not what the teacher is thinking.

To ensure that collaborative feedback is practiced I require every project to include at least one adjustment that students must credit to another student’s feedback when they hand-in or present their project.

Originally published at


Technology companies focus on communication and feedback to create an environment of enthusiastic, engaged learners. Fundamentally, they are moving away from an ‘authoritative’, ‘telling’ and ‘corrective’ approach and instead toward an ‘amplifying’, ‘curious’ and ‘collaborative’ approach.

Pixar’s Plussing

Amplifying feedback over silencing feedback.

Effective Feedback

Sharing perspective instead of authoritatively telling.

Technical Feedback (without being the sage on the stage)

Agile Communication and Management Approaches (classroom management)

Teachers on Communication and Inspiration

Bill Tihen
Bill Tihen
Educator and Technologist

Developer, Educator and very curious.