Students should not write semester interim comments. Teachers should.

It’s not about who should carry the burden of writing academic comments. It’s about giving students access to valuable perspectives. 

Two weeks ago, upper school students toiled through the process of writing self-reflective second-semester comments. Teachers signed off and then released them to MyBackPack in mid-March.

Upperclassmen should still remember: receiving quarter interim comments was a nerve-wracking experience. Much agony and joy accompanied comment release day. 

Those days are no more. Since March 2022, students, not teachers, write self-reflective comments about their performance in class. Teachers add remarks in response to these self-reflections, but students now possess the power to set the tone and guide the narratives. 

The agony. No more. The excitement. No more. 

While I was at first a little disappointed at losing a source of external validation, I thought that most students would have liked to see this shift.

They did not.

Ethan Lee ’24 at The Index was the first to report on this shift. In a March 2022 poll with 105 upper school respondents, 84 percent answered “No” to the question “Was the self-reflective process effective for you?”

Yes. People dislike changes—it’s part of the reason why the poll response was overly negative. But it isn’t that simple.

Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer responded in Lee’s article, stating that this shift “would bring a more authentic voice to comments” and that the school “tried to give students some more ownership over reflecting on their learning.”

In that same piece, Luke Fesnak ’24 said, “I think my parents and I value the teachers’ opinions a little bit more than mine. I understand self-reflection is important, but a teacher has something to say that I don’t.”

He is right. 

According to The New York TimesMelinda Moyer, people rarely share constructive criticism, because we underestimate just how much other people want it—“an error we make both at work and in everyday situations.”

Criticism can be helpful, soul-wrenching, or a mix of both. Constructive criticism is rarely given, but it is educationally beneficial.

Criticism can be helpful, soul-wrenching, or a mix of both. Constructive criticism is rarely given, but it is educationally beneficial. 

Research posted by the U.S. Department of Education compiled the results from a dozen statistical experiments and concluded that “assessment theories and academics alike espouse the importance of feedback on performance assessment tasks for supporting improvement and progress in student learning achievement.”

It’s not to say that self-reflections are not of immense value. It’s just that internal and external feedback shouldn’t be confused as one. Instead of providing just another chance for self-reflection, the semester interim comments should remain separate and intact as a part of Haverford’s teacher feedback system.

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen is an 2022-2023 Editor-In-Chief for The Index. A staff writer since 2019, he had previously served as an Academics Editor, Managing Editor, and assumed the role of Editor-In-Chief in May 2022. His news piece “Inside the Middle School construction project” and his opinion piece “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” earned him regional Scholastic Writing Awards.