Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dishing out the "compliment sandwich"

From a comment on a post at Philosophy Smoker:
I give my students the Jim Pryor line: I'm going to be 'lazy, stupid, and mean' when I grade their papers. So, I tell them, they better write clearly and precisely if they want to be interpreted fairly. The 'lazy, stupid, and mean' line is a neat little pedagogical tool to motivate students and make my expectations clear.  
But, I do take their papers seriously as attempts to do philosophy. When I leave comments on their paper - even if the papers are confused - I at least assume they tried to tackle the assignment, provide constructive comments, and then give them some version of a 'compliment sandwich' at the end:
(1) Here's something you did nicely; (2) Here's something you did poorly and/or can improve on; (3) Here's something to keep in mind going forward.
I like that: the 'compliment sandwich'. I do it too, but hadn't heard that name (though technically, it's more of a 'criticism sandwich', since the criticism is sandwiched between the compliment and the advice, but still...). I wonder about what psychology says about presenting feedback in this form — whether it sinks in, how it's received, etc. Does anyone else serve these sandwiches on student papers?


  1. Good reminder about taking the papers seriously as "attempts to do philosophy." I've used this technique (got it from the local toastmaster's club). Can't say if it is better or worse, but I feel better about the comments I give

  2. Michael wrote:

    "I wonder about what psychology says about presenting feedback in this form — whether it sinks in, how it's received, etc."

    I am not sure about the details regarding this particular sandwich recipe. However, a fun book by Clifford Nass entitled _The Man Who Lied to His Laptop_ covers some related research on feedback (praise and criticism). The chapter on this topic is worthwhile. I won't go into the details here, but he recommends giving lengthy, detailed praise after brief, targeted criticism.

    He says research indicates the typical praise, criticism, praise sandwich is a mistake. Different sandwich recipe from above, though. With respect to that recipe, his research seems to suggest that (2) should come before (3) before (1).


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