Feedback a la positivity – examples

A colleague messaged me privately concerning the “positivity trip” I’m on in my posts.  While I don’t care for the word used, I’ll quote the question.

There you go again, Jill.  I’m gonna ask one more time. Aren’t you concerned about positivity and wussification of our students?

That’s not what I’m writing, talking, and thinking about.  I want to be better – intentional – about offering specific, actionable feedback.  The more I use and practice with I like…because…I wonder…, and What if… the more favorable the responses are.

I also wonder if we have a “no news is good news” attitude when marking papers. If we did a little data mining on the most recent set of graded papers or feedback comments, would we see descriptive positive comments? Or, it is habit to mark what is wrong or needs improvement? Do learners look at the whole of the assessment, or do they look for marks and comments? What is the positivity ratio of what they find?

Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals. (Achor, 91 pag.)

So, I’m curious… Is there anything wussifying <ick!> about the following feedback?

Example 1: Algebra I – I can evaluate an expression involving exponents that are integers.

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  • I like that you showed your work and thinking, because I can see that you do understand negative exponents. Questions 9 and 12 show that you have a solid understanding when asked to evaluate a negative exponent.
  • I like that your work in Question 10 is clear enough to show that you correctly evaluated the negative exponent. I wondered if you had trouble with fractions until I read your work in Questions 11 and 12.  Nice corrections, by the way. I like that you can see what you thought initially and what you now think, because it will help you when you review.
  • I wonder if you understand Question 11 even now. What if we meet for a few minutes to discuss your understanding of complex fractions and why a number raised to the zero power equals one?

Example 2: Leading Learners to Level Up formative assessment

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I like that Level 4 challenges learners to convert between different forms of a linear equation, because this will help with symbolic manipulation that is so important in 9th grade physics.

I wonder if the language will confuse learners.  As you can see from my work, I did not answer the question as you intended.  I read intercept form and used the slope-intercept form.  What if we ask for the equation written in two-intercept form? I wonder if the additional language will offer learners clarity.

Example 3: New Ask, Don’t Tell Art of Questioning document for Algebra II.

<Sam> What do you think?


  • I like it, because it is clear why each form has advantages, and that knowing all 3 forms is helpful.  I like it, because it is easy, using the slider bar, to navigate between the three forms.
  • I like that it is easy to see that the value of a is constant no matter the form.  I wonder how learners identify patterns in forms of hypotheses and then check.  I wonder if they will struggle with writing their hypotheses in words.
  • I wonder why the manipulatable points are so large.  I wonder why the user-added font is larger than the font of scale and values of the graphing window.
  •  I like that the value of a changes in fraction increments and that the functions are displayed with fraction coefficients rather than
  • decimals.  I wonder if learners will notice and document the pattern of the fractional coefficients when moving an x-intercept.
  •  I like that a double root is possible.  I wonder if learners will adjust the window to have the y-intercept in the graphing view. I wonder if learners will know to adjust and reset the viewing window.
  • What if the axis of symmetry is added to the graph?  I wonder if it would help or distract.
  • What if the background of the graphing window is graph paper? Would it help the visual process to be able to count?

<Sam> Thanks for the feedback.  Incorporated a few changes..  Font size is what it is.


  • I like the addition of the words: vertex form, factored form, standard form, because it provides clarity.  I wonder – I think – that it will offer learners language to document patterns and hypotheses in words.

What if we practice taking the time to offer positive, descriptive, and growth-oriented feedback? How might we change outlook, efficacy, and attitude? How might we learn to spot patterns of possibility?


Achor, Shawn (2010-09-14). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Kindle Locations 1351-1353). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Positivity challenge: experiment, practice, observe, take note

What if we experiment with influence of positivity? What if feedback to learners identifies details of strengths exhibited as well as areas for growth in a 3:1 ratio?  How might we enhance motivation and productivity? How might we influence opportunities to flourish?

<In a whisper…shh…>
Umm…What if I don’t know how? How do I start? My written feedback has been “great job” and “needs improvement.”

What language gets to more growth oriented feedback that enhances motivation, creativity, and productivity?

Let’s mashup Design Thinking feedback and the Art of Questioning…Think of it as a recipe for feedback power writing.

Start with I like…because…, then use I wonder…, and then What if… as the wrap-up.

Starting with I like indicates that there is value in what is observed. Using because adds detail to describe/indicate what is valuable.  I wonder can be used to indicate an area of growth demonstrated or an area of growth that is needed.  Both are positive; taking the time to write what you wonder indicates care, concern, and support.  Wrapping up with What if is invitational and builds relationship.

Move the fulcrum so that all the advantage goes to a negative mindset, and we never rise off the ground. Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset, and the lever’s power is magnified— ready to move everything up. (Achor, 65 pag.)


Achor, Shawn (2010-09-14). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Kindle Locations 947-948). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Positivity ratio – productivity, motivation, flourish

Even the smallest shots of positivity can give someone a serious competitive edge. (Achor, 48 pag.)

Tis the season…Either exams were just completed or the prep for them is beginning. I wonder how we might employ the positivity ratio in our feedback, comments, and marks as exams are scored and returned to learners. Usually exams are considered summative assessment, but at the end of first semester, could they be also be used as informing assessment?

Once positive emotions outnumbered negative emotions by 3 to 1— that is, for every three instances of feeling gratitude, interest, or contentment, they experienced only one instance of anger, guilt, or embarrassment— people generally flourished.  (Pink, 107 pag.)

As we have seen, even the smallest moments of positivity in the workplace can enhance efficiency, motivation, creativity, and productivity. (Achor, 58 pag.)

What if we experiment with influence of the positivity ratio? What if every learner found a note attached to the scored exam that identified details of strengths exhibited on the exam as well as areas for growth in a 3:1 ratio?  How might we enhance motivation and productivity? How might we impact opportunities to flourish?


Achor, Shawn (2010-09-14). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Pink, Daniel H. (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.