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  • Writer's pictureLynn Armsby

Feedback: How to Make it Constructive

Updated: Jul 20, 2019


Feedback is such a complicated and extensive subject that I feel sure that everyone will have a lot of views about it.

I would like to start by telling you a couple of stories about feedback. Firstly from my husband, who some of you may know was a professional ventriloquist for over 60 years. During his time in show biz he had a lot of feedback: Firstly direct and instant feedback from audiences and then from well meaning advice givers who want to share their thoughts.

After a well received show at a very big night club in the north of England my husband encountered an advice giver backstage at a club. His advice to my husband was this:

You know when you have finished your show and they’re all

shouting more……………you’re supposed to walk off and come back and do a bit more”.

My husband smiled. He had been working since he was 14 ½ and was in the middle of a long career. He was a successful, wonderful support act but was never a headliner. He had been learning in the industry for many years, touring with Morecambe and Wise and Ken Dodd regularly. “That’s interesting” said my husband with a wry smile on his face. “Thank you for the advice.

What do you do”?

“I’m in show business” said the man.

“Excellent” said my husband, “What do you do?”

“I tear the tickets at the Bradford Alhambra Theatre” said the man

“Really” said my husband, “thanks for the advice I’ll bear it in mind”.

My own story of feedback is about Maths. When I was completing a degree at Bucks New University the skills tutor gave us a Maths test ,to establish where we might need support. I was worried about it as Maths was not my strongest subject. When the results came out it I was surprised to see that I was in the top percentile. I am good at Maths it appears. So why did I think I wasn’t. The answer is simple. A teacher at school at some point in my life told me I wasn’t good at Maths and it became a self fulfilling prophesy. The feedback which may have been to encourage me to work harder, had held me back.

That is why feedback is such an important area. I believe that feedback can impact on us long after the event. Every time a learner entrusts their learning path to us either in a class or in a private lesson we have a huge responsibility.


I don’t want you to think I have all this sorted. I once told a learner they reminded me of one of the woodentops from the TV series (you know who you are) and I apologise. It was an unhelpful comparison. (Well maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought because they have a lovely fluent action now!)

Dancers will tell you they are used to criticism and they know how to receive it. This is actually what makes them very employable in all sorts of areas. They are used to giving and receiving feedback.

It brings me to the most important issue. What is the best way to give feedback?

We would all agree it needs to be constructive but let’s break it down a bit further.

1. Clear goals for learning (if a student does not know what they are trying to achieve they will not now when they have achieved it)

2. Clear use of language. The student needs to hear something in a way they can understand. Don’t baffle them with technical jargon unless they have studied it.

3. Constructive missions for advancement based on the individual and not the class.


Petty, (2009) calls this process Medals and Missions.

The medal part is when you praise the learner for their improvement or for something that is done well.

The mission is information about what needs improvement AND vitally the way to improve it.

When giving feedback try not to use the conjunction BUT……….

Your rise and fall is very good but you don’t have the correct sway.

In preference you might say your rise and fall is very good , I can see that you’ve practiced that. The next step is to work on the sway as this will help you to move around each other on the dance floor.

You have given a “medal” and a “mission”.

It is very easy to give ourselves feedback: “I give really good feedback in my class”.

Now do the really hard thing and ask your class members for feedback. One of the easiest way to do this is the Stop and Go questionnaire. Tell me three things you want me to continue doing and one you would like me to stop doing when I am teaching. Now that would produce some interesting feedback. I might even do it myself………………..when I am brave enough.


Petty, G (2009) Teaching Today 4th Ed. Cheltenham:Nelson Thornes.

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