This post provides a process for your students to solicit and give feedback to new ideas.
Are your gifted students good at listening when other people propose ideas? Are they good at receiving ideas, asking clarifying questions, and delivering meaningful feedback?
Are they great at supporting the ideation process while raising it to the next level?
Are they better than some adults we know?
Sometimes we can be our least supportive selves when hearing new ideas.
If you design curriculum for gifted youth, you probably activate the CREATE level of Bloom’s weekly in your classroom, and therefore you probably want your students designing, making, and building new things in a community that is motivational, nurturing, and inspirational. When people create, they need meaningful feedback that matches that value system, which is, Let’s nurture the best in ourselves.
Yet often a critique process can be the biggest impediment to people’s generative work, because we don’t know how to manage the critiques and balance the feedback. Feedback that isn’t tuned into what creators need–fluency and flexibility–can cause students to walk away discouraged and more focused on the negativity–the tone–than any legitimate feedback given. How do we give feedback well so that this doesn’t happen?
Have ideas for the best ways for your students to solicit and share feedback when presenting new ideas? Share with us below!
Fluency and Flexibility
Fluency is a generative aspect of creativity, the ability to produce many ideas in response to open-ended problems, while flexibility is the talent for seeing a problem from many perspectives, trying many different approaches, and categorizing ideas in a variety of ways. Society’s greatest innovators aren’t afraid of thought experiments and discarding ideas that don’t work, so reminding our students to not only generate ideas with fluency and flexibility but also to HEAR those ideas with fluency and flexibility is essential.
The Problem with People
Yet, the problem with human nature is we often say the first negative thing that comes to mind when we hear a new idea. We receive ideas inflexibly and sometimes even defensively.
“Well, that won’t work because…”
“The problem with that is…”
“I don’t like…”
“I don’t know…I just can’t picture it…”
In essence, we shut down the conversation.
There are many reasons for this find-the-flaws behavior, the worst of which can be pride, competitiveness, fear, and/or meanness. “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?” Aaron Burr asks of Alexander Hamilton in the musical Hamilton. Answer: it’s the rough seas of being a highly-gifted kid. (See our series, “When Giftedness Gets Annoying.”) Or some gifted youth believe in the scarcity model, taught by us adults that there’s only room for a few people to “win”–as if we’re all starring on an episode of Chopped or American Idol–and therefore it’s not good if a peer suddenly has a “better” idea–it might even be a threat!
The best reasons for the immediate, unvarnished, and flaws-focused critique of a brand-new idea can be truly legitimate concerns that a quick-minded gifted youth can’t suppress. Or sometimes time is tight, and those wedded to efficiency (often, teachers) want to weed out what they perceive to be “weak” ideas and rush the class toward looking for flaws first.
The truth is, creatives need balanced feedback. During the creative process, it’s essential that our students have both an encouraging and challenging experience that helps them get the idea as sound as possible before it takes flight. Gifted youth should emerge from the feedback process feeling energized, eager, and heard, ready to do better and shoot higher.
Meet the Tuning Protocol.
When she first arrived at Duke TIP, my colleague Diana Lisle White, Duke TIP’s coordinator of the eInvestigators program, brought us the Tuning Protocol so we could vet proposed ideas for the eInvestigator “cases” our students get to crack: essentially, ideas for our newest mysteries. If you’ve ever read a mystery or written one, you know that the storyline must be tight. Making up a narrative-based curriculum from scratch doesn’t happen with one person in a room. We engage in a rigorous feedback process of the story ideas so our team can choose those that will work best for gifted youth, grades 4th-6th, and ones that will work well for our problem-based learning skill objectives. (For more information on the eInvestigators case scenarios and our rubric, see our post, “Cracking the Case Design: How Duke TIP Does PBL.”
The Tuning Protocol is elegant and powerful in its simplicity for gathering reactions to a proposal. It invites all voices to the table while giving room for three kinds of feedback: clarification of core ideas, strengths, and areas for improvement. Whenever your students are working on a class project–one that several students will contribute to–or whenever they are proposing a project that the whole group might do, then the Tuning Protocol is a helpful mechanism to solicit information about what’s working and what’s not.
So How Do We Tune In?
Follow this process below. I’ve added to the original framework with my own nod to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Revised, as I clarified the question types. I’ve also added an Appreciation Round and specific questions for the Reflection time.
As teacher, you can play the role of facilitator to keep the process moving and assign a note-taker to record the clarifying questions, the warm feedback, the cool feedback, and the reflections.
- Presenter Time: First, the presenter shares for 10-20 minutes, providing a detailed description of the idea. She must share a clear outline of the proposal and documents as needed. (For the purposes of this blog, we won’t focus on the needs and requirements of a substantive proposal, as that can differ with projects and contexts. Just know that the more detail, the better–and a copy of the proposal is great for students to annotate if it’s very detailed–unless the point of the project is to bring fresh and new ideas that took a short time to develop.)
- Thinking Time: The group (listeners) silently reflects for 2-5 minutes, making notes that helps prepare for the next phase: clarifying questions; warm feedback (strengths); and cool feedback (areas for improvement).
- Clarifying Time: The listeners have time to ask clarifying questions (10 minutes). If you have a large class, then ask some students to record questions on cards or an electronic bulletin board (Padlet, Trello) with names attached (no anonymous feedback). Ask 5-7 students to ask their questions of the presenter. Questions should have these features:
- A goal of getting more information. The question should demonstrate sincere curiosity about how something works or will work in order to know more, comprehend more, and help the presenter analyze the proposal.
- Neutral language. The question should be free of leading or evaluative language that expresses warm or cool feedback.
- Curiosity. The question should seek to know, understand, apply, and analyze.
- KNOW: Could you define…?
- UNDERSTAND: Could you explain/summarize/rephrase…?
- APPLY: Would X work within a Y situation? How?
- ANALYZE: What would you compare it to? What are the component parts? If we tried x, what might happen?
- The presenter should answer questions as succinctly as possible and not defend anything. Just as the listeners should be neutral, so should the presenter, and seek to explain and educate rather than double down on the idea. Where possible, the presenter should give as full an answer as is possible at this stage, or perhaps say, “I don’t know. Good question!”
- Warm Feedback Time. Listeners should give specific, positive feedback about what’s working in the proposal. What are the strongest elements of the proposal? It’s fine for listeners to echo others’ previously-stated ideas, and they should also seek to review the notes on the proposal and say something new. Listeners should be reminded to give real praise, not faint praise: in other words, the specificity is all. As with clarifying questions, use electronic boards as well as a format that solicits new voices in the room to give feedback.
- Cool Feedback Time. Listeners should give specific, constructive feedback that offers suggest improvements. What are the weakest elements of the proposal? Again, listeners can echo one another, and they can seek new things to say, but they should not say critical things just to have something to say. Ensure that electronic boards and new voices share the feedback at this stage.
- Appreciation Round. The teacher, the presenter, and a few listeners should recognize any particular speakers who demonstrated encouragement, flexibility, fluency, and specificity. Who really helped us create a space that is open to ideas and feedback?
- Reflection Time. The presenter should take a few minutes to answer two or more of these questions for the group:
- The clarifying questions I need to answer include…
- The patterns and trends I see in your warm feedback are…
- The patterns and trends I see in your cool feedback are…
- I now have these questions about my proposal…
- It’s possible my next step will be…
See What Happens
When we take time to slow down the feedback process and listen carefully to one another, we honor ideas in their infancy. We treat them with the caution and care we give to children. We also make sure we don’t overindulge these ideas or immediately chastise them. We make sure the temperature in the room is not warm, not cool, but “just right”–in other words, optimal for sending our gifted youth out there to make new and better things for our world.