Teaching Students the Art of Giving (and Receiving) Feedback and Sharing IDEASS


By Kaci Bishop, UNC School of Law

Law students may be accustomed to receiving feedback, but as lawyers, they will also be called on to give feedback.  They may review a colleague’s brief or contract, adapt samples, help moot a case or supervise a summer or new associate, etc.  Learning how to give feedback effectively can also help them develop their critical eye to assess and revise their own work.  Giving feedback effectively is thus another skill worth teaching. [1]

In my classes, students have opportunities to exchange feedback with peers on written assignments through structured peer reviews and through moots and case rounds.  More informally, they exchange feedback regularly with their partner as they work on their clients’ cases, and as we debrief together in team meetings.

To be sure we have a shared vocabulary and framework for giving feedback, I include in the beginning of the semester a lesson on giving feedback.  It also sets a tone for receiving feedback.  My stated objectives for the lesson are to (1) reflect on how they have received and given feedback in the past; (2) explore what it means to have a growth mindset; (3) learn a framework for giving effective feedback; and (4) practice using that framework.

I begin by having them answer polls about what goals or concerns they have had when giving feedback in the past and then how they like to receive feedback.  Often, the polls reveal that most students want to help someone improve their work but are concerned they will hurt the receiver’s feelings—while they themselves prefer direct and honest (which students often frame to me as “harsh”) feedback.  We discuss these tensions, and circle back to them throughout the class and the semester.  We also explore and discuss the differences between direct and directive feedback, and I share how I usually give feedback (e.g., asking them questions to help them puzzle out what they need to do to make the product more effective or sometimes identifying the issue and modeling one but letting them find where they did it other times).

Figure 1: Sample Poll Question Assessing How Students Like to Receive Feedback

Discussing the polls segues to talking about what it means to have a growth mindset, because the polls usually demonstrate that the students’ best experiences in giving and receiving feedback were when they were open and ready to learn.  I introduce (or re-introduce) Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory work, highlighting the differences between the fixed mindset (intelligence is static) and the growth mindset (intelligence is malleable).  I emphasize how we all occupy both mindsets at different times, even though we may gravitate to one over the other. I emphasize, too, how we can learn to recognize when we are occupying a fixed mindset and then work to reorient ourselves to be in one of growth.[2]  For example, as a 1L, I struggled to grasp Contract law.  It would have been easy to give up and conclude that I was just not a Contracts person and write off the class (and my ability to understand it).  That’s a fixed mindset.  To succeed, I had to shift to a growth mindset.  I had to shift to thinking that while I was not yet understanding Contracts, I was capable of understanding it and needed to put forth more time and effort to do so. 

Figure 2: Slide with a summary of Carol Dweck’s mindset attributes.

One’s mindset is important for feedback—both receiving and giving. When a person is occupying a fixed mindset when receiving feedback, she is entering the exchange with the goal of receiving validation and approval.  She will be more resistant to criticism, no matter how constructive.  Similarly, when giving feedback, a person occupying a fixed mindset may offer feedback aimed more at demonstrating how smart he is or with performing if in front of other people than responding to the goals of the person seeking the feedback.  Alternatively, someone giving feedback while occupying a fixed mindset may not think he has anything of value to add and thus not offer much in the exchange.  Getting into a growth mindset—for both the receiver and giver of feedback—and seeing the exchange as an opportunity for both to learn and improve is essential for sharing feedback effectively.  If both the giver and the receiver are occupying a growth mindset when exchanging feedback, they will learn and draw inspiration from each other and propel each other to higher levels of achievement.

In addition to having a growth mindset, I advise the students that when giving feedback, they should focus on the skills or product not on the person, personality, or identity.  And their feedback should be constructive; meaning, it should be based on observations not opinions, be concrete and achievable, and limited.  The giver of feedback should not overwhelm the receiver with tons of pieces of things to correct and should always include at least one thing that should be preserved because it is already effective.

I then share the following framework for giving feedback, complete with the (possibly silly) mnemonic: IDEASS.

Figure 3: IDEASS Framework

The first objective when someone is asked to give feedback to another is to identify the priorities or goals of the person seeking the feedback.  What would the receiver most like to get out of the peer review, moot, or rounds?  What feedback would be most helpful?  How do they prefer to receive feedback?  Are there particular questions the receiver has that they are seeking answers to?  When is the product due and how much time do they have to revise?  These questions help set expectations to guide the exchange.

The student then needs to diagnose the issues.  This may be difficult; it’s also crucial because it focuses the feedback and helps to train the analytical skills and critical eye of both the giver and the receiver.  To diagnose the issues, the giver of feedback needs to understand and articulate what the underlying norms or rules of the skill or product are.  For example, if giving feedback on headings in a brief, the underlying rule for effective headings might be that they should be framed as conclusions that blend law and fact allowing the writer’s arguments to appear as an exoskeleton of the brief.  For a direct exam, the underlying rule might be that the questions should be open-ended rather than leading. These underlying issues or rules might mirror what the receiver of feedback identified as their priorities.  They might have asked for help making their direct exam more open-ended, for instance.  If the underlying norms or rules for the product are not clear, the giver of feedback should askthe person seeking feedback what they intended or how they chose to do what they did, then the giver can share observations about the product or skill.

The student giving feedback should share one or two effective aspects and then one or two areas of focus for improvement.  Often “feedback” seems only to encompass the latter but sharing what worked well or what was effectively done helps the giver know what to keep or what to replicate going forward.  Both feedback about effective aspects and those that could be improved or more effective should be shared as what the giver observed.

Sharing observations, not opinions, helps both receiver and giver to continue to occupy a growth mindset and to maintain the goal that both are learning through the exchange.  The giver should focus on what they noticed about the skill or product and reflect or even replay what the person seeking the feedback said or did.  For example, if the student seeking feedback on a direct exam asked a leading question, the student giving the feedback might note: “you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?’ That is a leading question.”

After reflecting what she noticed, the student giving the feedback can then suggest next steps or solutions.  How might someone do it differently next time?  The student may also model a solution.  She might, for example, say: “Instead, you could ask: ‘Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?’”  Alternatively, the student giving the feedback might ask the student who did the direct exam to arrive at a solution by saying something like: “How might you ask an open-ended question to get the same point?” At this phase, if possible, the person seeking the feedback could try again or revise the product, incorporating the feedback.

Putting it all together, a student’s feedback on the direct exam hypothetical may look like this:

  • You wanted me to assess your direct exam.
  • Your questions have a good rhythm and build upon each other in a way that allows your client’s story to come out persuasively.
  • Some of your questions were not yet open-ended. For example, at one point, you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?” That is a leading question.  Instead, you could ask: “Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?”

Beyond sharing IDEASS with their peer, I encourage students to also use growth language[3] in giving feedback—such as the words: yet, and, and opportunity—and to express gratitude by thanking each other for the time, feedback, and opportunity to help.  Then, to finish the lesson, I have my students practice using the framework with a simulation.  I share a video of a simulated client interview (e.g., one from the Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project, created by Lindsay M. Harris and Laila L. Hlass, which as one of the participants in the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference in the spring of 2021 noted is the gift that keeps on giving!) and have the students share their feedback to the student interviews in the video.  The students thus get to practice using this IDEASS framework for feedback in a low-stakes way.  We can then revisit this shared vocabulary and framework as needed throughout the semester when they are called upon to give feedback to a peer—and continue to build this skill along with many others.


[1] This blog post summarizes the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference 2021 by the same name.

[2] In addition to exploring Carol Dweck’s work, here are some other resources for incorporating her mindset theory into legal education: Corie Rosen, The Method and The Message; Heidi K. Brown, The Emotionally Intelligent Law Professor; Paula J. Manning, Word to the Wise; and Megan Bess, Grit, Growth Mindset, and the Path to Successful Lawyering;

[3] I explore growth language in more depth in my article on Framing Failure in the Legal Classroom.

2 Responses

  1. I love this article, Kaci – so many great ideas for class! One additional element that I work into my feedback class is helping students diagnose their physical and emotional reactions to getting “constructive” feedback. For example, do their palms sweat, does their heart race, do they get sad, or angry? To help them diagnose this, I pre-write notes (over email when we’re remote) and deliver them individually during class, telling students not to open them until I say so. The note (same content for everyone) usually says something like, “Dear [student], I have concerns about [X]; please come see me ASAP and we’ll work it out.” I have them all open their notes at the same time, and then do a quick-write about what their emotions and bodies are doing in that moment. It takes about ten seconds for them to realize they all got the same note (and that it wasn’t real), and there’s always a big laugh and release of tension. But then we have a discussion about what happened. Students will fess up to freaking out, or feeling like a failure, or even getting angry at *me* for not being clear about whatever assignment it was . . . many fall into the “fight, flight, or freeze” framework. I emphasize how their physical and emotional reactions can quickly lead to a story they tell themselves (and other feedback triggers like Sheila Heen discusses), like “my professor hates me,” “I’ll never be able to do this,” etc. We then talk about mindfulness, bodily awareness, the value of taking deep breaths, preparing themselves for feedback, etc. It’s always a great exercise, and leads to a lot of meaningful introspection about how students approach feedback (and cultivating a growth mindset).

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