Photo by Heather, Flickr CC

If you’re anything like me, when you need a break from your work, you spend some time binge watching TV. Of course, I only watch the most intellectually stimulating shows — which brings me to The Great British Baking Show. Over my holiday break, I watched all six seasons and the holiday special. While this isn’t my proudest accomplishment, it did get me thinking about student feedback and The Great British Baking Show as a pedagogical model.

Photo of Paul Hollywood by helen, Flickr CC

If you haven’t seen the show, the set-up is that in each episode, the bakers have three baked goods that are judged before one of the contestants is eliminated. The bakers know about and plan for two of the challenges, but the third is a surprise. As you can imagine, each week there is a range of success, and therefore a range of feedback given.

Over the course of the episodes, I began to notice that judge Paul Hollywood stood out — not just for his icy, blue eyes but also for the comments he made and the advice he gave the contestants each week. Paul is especially efficient and concrete in his feedback to contestants. Paul and Mary Berry, the other judge, follow many of the tactics that research shows to be best practices in providing effective feedback. I want to highlight a few of them.

  • Be specific. Research shows that specific feedback is more effective than general feedback in helping students reach certain goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Locke & Latham, 1984). Specific feedback encourages the student to really focus on that specific task for future assignments. This is something that I noticed immediately on the Great British Baking Show. For example, if a baker presents a four-tiered cake with three different cake batters, two types of icing, and various other flavored decorations, the judges don’t just say “good job.” Instead, they comment on each individual flavor, texture, and aspect of the visual presentation, letting the baker know that his or her cake was moist but the flavor left something to be desired or that the decorations were pretty but had an off-putting texture.
  • Give weight to what is most important. As faculty, we try to do this with our rubrics. We need to make sure that we allocate more points to the aspects that we think are most important. This gives our students information about what they should focus on when completing their assignments. The judges in the show also do this. Throughout all of the seasons, they focus on flavor. While the appearance of each baked good matters, they are more concerned with what it tastes like. On numerous occasions, Paul mentions that some bakers are concerned more with “style over substance.” This shows that the judges prioritize the taste and flavor of the food. As faculty, we need to do decide what the most important learning outcome is and focus on it within our rubrics and grading.
  • Help students advance. Hattie and Timperley (2007) also encourage faculty to provide specific feedback that helps students work toward their ultimate goal. We need to use proactive language to help students further their work. Paul and Mary do this with each of the contestants. After tasting their food and giving specific feedback on each aspect, they provide information about how to improve. For example, if Paul notices that a cake is “too close-textured” or has cracked, he may advise the baker to knead the dough less or prove the dough more. (I say this like I have any idea what that means)
  • Ask pointed questions. Throughout the seasons, the judges ask specific questions of the contestants. For example, Paul may notice the bakers rolling the dough or braiding their plaited bread in a non-traditional way. He is known to stop and ask the contestants about the benefits of their method. In order to answer the questions, the baker is forced to think through their knowledge of baking basics. The same goes for our students. By including specific questions in our feedback, we encourage students to think and formulate ideas for themselves.

I know we all get crunched for time and fall back on our go-to grading phrases. But as our semester progresses and the papers start rolling in, I plan to think about The Great British Baking Show. Paul and Mary really do offer great examples of specific, proactive feedback — much better than a simple “good job.”

Dr. Andrea Krieg is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Elmhurst College. She earned her PhD from Bowling Green State University in Sociology. She teaches a variety of courses and loves her time in the classroom.