Cultivating the growth mindset through feedback

As the end of the school semester fast approaches, most teachers are making the mad dash of marking and reporting, along with business as usual. These can be trying times for those in schools. During this mad dash, it is worthwhile to consider the opportunity that this process presents to our school communities.

As teachers provide feedback on assessment tasks and construct reporting comments, it is worth being intentional about cultivating the growth mindset. Can we deliberately use our feedback and comments to cultivate the growth mindset? What impact would this have on our students and our schools?

Research from Columbia University has shown that when adults praise students for their intelligence or talent, as opposed to their effort, it fosters a fixed mindset. Doing this is likely to have an undesirable impact on future academic outcomes. In fact, praise for intelligence and talent has been shown to undermine motivation, persistence, effort, task enjoyment and performance. Providing feedback about intelligence and talent does not help students improve performance (even if we are telling them how fantastic they are).

Alternatively, growth-minded feedback can have significant positive impacts on student learning. For feedback to make a positive difference, it needs to come from a growth mindset framework.

Growth minded feedback focuses on the process, not on the product. Instead of telling kids that they are clever, smart or gifted in a particular area or subject, we should tell them that we value their persistence or the way they focussed on the task until they found a solution.

An example of a fixed minded comment on a report card: “Sally is a talented student, and she has achieved a high standard this Semester.” The growth minded alternative is: “Sally has worked consistently and developed skills that have led her to achieve a high standard this Semester.” The growth minded comment educates the parents and the student that we value the process of learning, not just their natural talent.

Our students can’t control their innate abilities, so this sort of praise and feedback doesn’t help. Conversely, our students can control their process, level of effort, time on task, persistence with difficult tasks etc. And when we praise or offer feedback about these things, the improvement is significant.

John Hattie is also a huge advocate for this sort of feedback. He has argued that feedback focused on the process of learning is helpful, while feedback that is an evaluation of the students’ability is not helpful.

In order to improve academic performance, motivation, persistence, effort and task enjoyment, educators should use every opportunity to cultivate the growth mindset. Regular feedback in classrooms as well as feedback on assessment and report cards can combine to have a huge impact.

Take each opportunity to praise the process that you want to see more of, not the giftedness of the person.