What is the tone of your relationship with red ink?
Disgust? Resentment? Abject dread?
It shouldn't be surprising that most of us, especially students, have a few negative feelings about red ink. Apart from the natural associations with danger, we've learned throughout our lives that the color red stands for mistakes, punishment, and failure. If everything you ever did wrong was marked in green, you'd probably want to punch Kermit the Frog instead of Elmo.
When the hard-won fruit of your academic labors comes back to you from the teacher with red writing all over it, your initial reaction may be to feel a bit let down, defeated, and discouraged.
Maybe it won't come as a shock to read that this is an unproductive way for you to absorb negative feedback. You've probably heard a million times that the key to improving yourself is not to stop making mistakes, but to learn from the ones you do make. So all those marks on your work aren't a sign that you're failing. They mean that you're growing, right?
You don't grow automatically by making mistakes and having them pointed out to you. Even if you have a positive attitude towards the negative feedback you get on your work, that's still not enough to move you forward.
Every time you get feedback from an instructor, that means that a highly skilled person has spent time thinking specifically about how you personally can improve your skills and deepen your knowledge. That's great! But what are you going to do with that information?
There's one more step you need to take. It's something you should do every day, but most students never do it at all.
The Green Light Method
Before you toss that marked paper, or file it, or jam it into a crumpled heap under your bed (or whatever your organizational system is), there's a simple but absolutely essential thing you need to do with each piece of feedback on that paper: transform it into a positive, definite, repeatable action. This action is your "Green Light," a powerful tool to move yourself forward as a student.
Once you've identified this very specific action, don't just resolve to perform that action from now on. Resolutions are fine, but they don't work in the long run. Instead, start training yourself right now so that over time, this action will become automatic. In other words, make it a habit.
(By the way, if you're setting up your own Habit Lab, turning red ink into Green Lights is one great way to identify new habits that you need to develop.)
Here's my proven process for making sure your Green Lights don't just fade away:
Once you've turned a piece of feedback into a Green Light, you don't need it any more. You've digested the red ink and processed it into something useful. Unless you want to hang onto it for its sentimental value, you can probably throw that paper in the trash now.
If there's information on it that you may still need, keep it out of the way in a well-marked file folder in a drawer or box where you can find it later. But if you can, the best thing is usually to copy that information into a consolidated study guide (like my 90-Second Review sheet) and throw the original paper away.
Use the Green Light Method for every problem set, worksheet, quiz, test, paper, or project you get back, and soon you'll have a master list of the most important habits that you personally need to develop in order to do better in every subject.
Following this method takes a little more time than just adding the paper to your folder or drawer or the perilously teetering stack of homework in the back of your closet. But think of it an investment of time now to get huge returns later. If you actually do this every day for just a few weeks, you'll be amazed at how much more easily and quickly you do all your work in the future.
I'll write soon about exactly how to craft your Green Light statements to make them positive, definite, and repeatable. (Let me know if you want that information in your inbox.) But you don't have to wait for more information to start mastering this method. Try it out right now! Find some recent marked work and start processing it. If you're not sure what to do with a particular note or mark, leave a comment here and I'll try to help!