With cyberbullying on a frighteningly consistent rise in schools, schools might be nervous about drawing a line between appropriate criticism and cyberbullying. Schools want to encourage constructive criticism both from teachers and from peers. This helps students to learn how to take and use criticism in college and beyond. Though it may at first seem vague, there’s a clear line when it comes to constructive criticism versus cyberbullying. For the good of school climate and student welfare, it’s important to clearly define both. 

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is defined as ”the act of harassing someone online by sending or posting mean messages, usually anonymously.” Cyberbullying involves personal and direct attacks on a specified target, such as another student. This can occur on social media sites, such as Facebook, or any personal messaging system, such as email or text. Cyberbullying is dangerous and if not stopped can even lead students to attempt suicide or self-harm. Compared to criticism, cyberbullying is purely destructive and often does not contain truth in reference to the target. The main purpose is to maim the victim emotionally, not to help them in any way. 

What Is Constructive Criticism and Its Appropriate Use in the Classroom?

The official definition of constructive criticism is: ”helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive).” Any criticism given to a student should be progressive and used as a helpful teaching moment. It is important to use positive wording. However, it’s equally important not to use a condescending tone. When pointing out something for the student to work on, it’s also important to give praise to something they did correctly. This gives the student confidence instead of a feeling of failure. 

Teaching Students about Constructive Criticism

Teachers should model constructive criticism in feedback for their students. Also, classroom activities can demonstrate and encourage constructive criticism. An example of this is peer review, creating a safe group space where students review each other’s papers. Teachers should explain that comments such as “I don’t like/hate it” are not constructive. Educators want to explain why using negatives can come off as harmful. It’s important to clarify what criticism is so that students can better review others’ work. By teaching this skill, students gain emotional maturity and intelligence. 

Examples of  Activities for Teaching Constructive Criticism

There are many ways to be creative in teaching constructive criticism. Teach students to give examples such as, ”I enjoy this point, but you should give an example here.” Emphasis on positivity in peer review is a crucial way to create a learning space. It also helps to assign students in each group a specific task according to their individual skills. For example, a student who is better at grammar should read for any grammatical errors. Another student might be better at reading comprehension and better able to refine a point of argument. A creative and helpful example could be to create a script for a particular response. 

Monitor Student Responses for Constructive Criticism Versus Cyberbullying

School is a place for learning, and students sometimes need guidance when it comes to whether a comment is constructive or not. This is especially true when learning takes place online. When students communicate face-to-face, they have the benefit of facial expressions and tone of voice. With digital communication, however, tone can easily be misconstrued. Educating students about digital communication and citizenship can make them more aware of the nuances of offering feedback online. Monitoring software like LearnSafe can also help to teach digital citizenship by making students more aware of how they behave online. Additionally, LearnSafe can detect instances of cyberbullying on school computers, allowing administrators to intervene and help vulnerable students.

Text by Kassie Roberts


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