July 10th, 2008

Plusses and Wishes


At a recent conference of faculty who teach public administration, Janet Mills shared a great way of getting positive (as in constructive) feedback from students. She calls her system “Plusses and Wishes” and it works like this. Each class has a Feedback Coordinator (one of several different roles assumed by students) who distributes blank Plusses and Wishes forms to students. They are filled out at the end of every class.

“Plusses are positive statements calling attention to what you liked, appreciated about the class session and would like to see more of. Wishes are positive statements asking for what you would like to have happen in the future,” it says in the description of the activity given to students. So students offer responses like, “I wish the room was warmer,” or “I wish the groups had had more time to talk about the essay.”

Mills pointed out in her session that if students offer feedback in the form of complaints, she tends to react negatively or defensively. “You thought the room was too cold? Well, bring a sweater.” But if students make positively framed, change-oriented statements, she feels motivated to work on making the proposed changes happen.

She also responds to this feedback in ways that reinforce its importance. Within 12 hours of receiving it, the Feedback Coordinator emails a report to the class. Shortly after that Mills posts an announcement on Blackboard in which she addresses the various plusses and wishes. She may also discuss them in more detail at the beginning of class.

The whole system gives students some responsibility for the process, saves the instructor time and makes the whole feedback process accessible and transparent. It’s a great model for students who see a mechanism that validates the feedback process.

—Maryellen Weimer