How students perceive feedback dramatically influences their ability to correct errors and continue learning. According to Dr. Jennifer Mangels (2007), students’ perceptions arise from their beliefs about intelligence. Individuals who believe intelligence is a fixed entity (i.e., you get the intelligence you’re born with) fixate on performance and respond to negative feedback (i.e., the identification of an error) by withdrawing and extending little effort. They become helpless, focusing on their performance rather than on how to learn correct responses or processes for future use. In contrast, individuals who believe intelligence is malleable (i.e., smart is something you become not something you possess) respond to negative feedback with a mastery-orientation, seeking means of correction and learning. Such learners are resilient, responding to set-backs with renewed energy directed toward learning.
As Dr. Mangels describes the difference, both groups desire similar outcomes (success) but possess different goals that serve as motivation (superior performance vs. mastery learning). One group sees feedback as a threat to avoid, while the other sees the same feedback as a means to improvement.
How can we direct student response to feedback so that the mastery-orientation overcomes the performance-orientation? Guiding students to view the feedback as a challenge to be overcome or a problem to be solved is the key. A classroom environment that welcomes error as a gateway to learning contributes to better feedback responses.
Dr. Robert Brooks (2007) suggests couching feedback in “we” statements. For example, rather than telling a student that a response is incorrect and to “try harder,” Brooks suggests, in one-on-one conversation, saying, “This strategy you're using doesn’t seem to be working. Let's figure out why and how we can change the strategy so that you are successful.” Such a response converts the feedback immediately into a problem-solving scenario—a scenario with a potentially positive conclusion.
What kind of messages do our classroom environments send students? Are we encouraging competition and comparison so that students become performance oriented? Do we welcome, even embrace errors as gateways to learning? The tone we establish and the approach we take to giving feedback can promote additional learning or stall student progress. Beliefs are influential!
By the way, this research was presented at the Learning and the Brain Conference in Cambridge, MA. Watch the blog for future gems from this outstanding conference!
Brooks, R. (2007, Nov.). Mindsets for school success: Effective educators and resilient, motivated learners. Presented at Learning and the Brain: Using Brain Research to Enhance Cognitive Abilities and Achievement.
Mangels, J. A. (2007, Nov.). Motivating minds: How student beliefs impact learning and academic achievement. Presented at Learning and the Brain: Using Brain Research to Enhance Cognitive Abilities and Achievement.