Effective feedback gives students information they actually use to increase their learning and improve their performance. It should employ a “growth mindset” that focuses on developing intelligence through effort and practice, and “wise feedback” that spurs additional effort.
1. Explain that mental effort actually changes the brain and increases its capacity.
The brain responds to mental effort the way our muscles respond to exercise. When students understand that fact, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenges.
2. Tests and assignments do not assess the student’s ability or potential.
They only assess the student’s skills at a point in time. So, you should respond to poor performance with feedback such as “You have not completely understood this concept yet or acquired this skill yet.”
3. Focus feedback on student progress, strategy, persistence, and effort.
Use specific comments like, “Great improvement on x; you’re ready to move on,” or “Good progress; you need some more practice with x.” Make no comments implying the student’s performance is based on “natural” ability. Note the quality of the work, not the quality of the student.
4. Recognize that preparation and ability are not the same thing.
Students who appear “smart” have usually had more useful exposure and experience. Students who catch on less quickly usually have less preparation for the new work, not less potential. Give these students the foundation and practice to hone the new skill or understand the new knowledge; use examples more closely aligned with the students’ own backgrounds.
5. Feedback should offer specific guidance on how to change.
Make clear what needs to be different about students’ work by breaking the task into small steps and identifying their specific missteps. Have them practice each step until they are comfortable with it before moving on to the next step. Initially, give students support to guide them through their practice, and gradually remove the support as the students get each small step down cold.
6. Do not lower standards for success.
Set your standards high and tell students the truth about how their performance compares with those standards thus far. As you teach and give feedback, however, be certain you have provided all the tools students need to meet these standards.
7. “Wise feedback” is particularly important when pointing out missteps.
Students are more likely to make the necessary additional effort if you clearly explain that you are holding them to high standards, that your corrections identify where the students have not yet met those standards, and that your suggestions tell them more about what work at those standards looks like. Finally, and very importantly, clearly express your confidence that the students have the capacity to reach those standards.
8. Always offer the opportunity to discuss your feedback.
It is important that the students fully understand the point you are making and their next steps.
- Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
- Cohen, G. L., & Steele, C. M. (2002). A barrier of mistrust: How negative stereotypes affect cross-race mentoring. In J. Aronson, Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education, 303-327.