Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

How can I prepare students for the review?

In childhood, the current generation of students often received a trophy, ribbon or plaque even if their team finished last.  As a consequence, they are accustomed to frequent praised and may be particularly uncomfortable with criticism.  Thus, the public nature of the review can be very intimidating and confusing for students. In secondary education students rarely learn how to accept and respond to criticism, so in the early undergraduate years they must develop and hone these skills. Often students receiving public feedback are looking and hoping for approval, so processing negative comments is particularly difficult. These same students often fail to understand that criticism can be a valuable and important tool for generating better work. As a result, we need to:

  • Share the goals, objectives and expectations of the review with students.
  • Explain the role of the reviewers with students so that they understand that reviewers may ask questions that challenge them, probe their decisions, etc. in order to help them further develop as professionals. In other words, remind students why the review is an important part of the educational process and the discipline.  Reinforce the idea that the general objective of the review is to provide information to students so they may improve the quality of their work.
  • Discuss with students the different “type” of reviewers based on their history, experience, personality type, etc. In other words, tell students that some reviewers are more blunt, argumentative, overly negative, etc., and that they should focus on what is being said, not necessarily how it is being said.
  • Discuss the different types of potential questions that students should expect. These varying types of questions are meant to help students think more broadly, deeply, across contexts, in a hypothetical situation, etc. By preparing students for the range of questions to anticipate, they are less likely to become defensive, embarrassed, angry, or distressed.
  • Discuss with students the distinction between criticism of their work and of them.
  • Discuss and, if possible, model how to reconcile differing views on certain aspects of the design or solution.
  • Discuss and model how to take specific comments and feedback, connect them to theory, principles, etc., and then generalize in order to be able to use the theory, principles, etc. in different contexts.
  • Discuss with students the role of risk-taking and failure in the creative process because experiences with failures often result in deeper learning. Framing failure in this way may allow students to “get the most out of bad reviews” because they hopefully will see the value of negative feedback.
  • Prepare students for the unexpected because adaptability and flexibility are important not only in the creative process but also in professional life where, for example, a client can enter the review process somewhere in the middle and introduce unexpected criteria which may be deemed relevant after the fact.
  • Suggest to students that they prepare in advance for the review by getting a good night’s sleep, thinking about (and perhaps jotting down) what they want to say as they introduce their project, and anticipating questions the reviewers might ask.
  • Suggest to students that they pair up with each other to “practice” presenting their work and responding extemporaneously to questions about their work. If students are new to the experience of public review, we may want to require that they do this in advance of the first presentation and review.
  • Model an example of an effective presentation (preferably one that you’ve presented recently).
  • Video a few public reviews, maybe of upper-class students with more experience, and share those videos with students so that they see examples of effective presentations, etc. We might also video a few students’ practice reviews so that they can evaluate themselves and hone their presentation skills.