We know that feedback is among the most powerful learning supports we can offer to students. However, students are often reluctant (even resistant) to feedback, as it can feel like criticism, and implementing what they are told may seem as though it is beyond their skills and current capacity.
Consequently, we need to be thoughtful as we plan and deliver feedback to learners. Researchers advise that effective feedback must include five key elements; it must be timely, specific, actionable, objective, and goal focused. Unless feedback comes soon after a learning attempt, students can neglect to do anything with it or forget it entirely. Students also need to know exactly what behavior or actions we are addressing, and they need be able to take meaningful action in response. Effective feedback needs to be free of judgment. Finally, when our feedback is connected to a goal that is meaningful to the student, it is more likely to be accepted and acted on.
Of course, our students themselves play an important role in determining whether the feedback we offer is implemented in a meaningful way. The more often students receive quality feedback, the more open they often are to receiving it. However, we can move this process to the next level by helping students develop mindsets that prepare them to receive and act on feedback.
We might share with students that the highest performers in any profession use feedback to stay at an elite level. For example, the best athletes use feedback to gain an edge on their competition. Accomplished musicians and other artists seek feedback to constantly improve their performance. Successful companies also regularly seek feedback from customers to ensure that their products and services are the best they can be.
However, each of these consumers of feedback have important attitudes or mindsets about feedback that makes what they hear useful and helps them to improve. While the mindsets that high performers have regarding feedback might be slightly different, here are five feedback-leveraging mindsets that we can teach to and coach in our students.
I know that feedback is about my learning; it is not a judgment of me. One of the most challenging aspects of receiving feedback is that it can feel like commentary or criticism about who we are. We need to continually reinforce for students that feedback is intended to help them be successful. We need to be careful to always focus our feedback on the actions or behavior of students, not on their character, personality, or identity.
I can improve regardless of my current performance. Hope and confidence are key success drivers when learning is challenging. This perspective relates to what is called a growth mindset. We can teach students and share research showing that intelligence is not assigned at birth and is not unchangeable, but rather, with practice, effort, and commitment, anyone can improve. Equally important, the more we work to improve, the more progress we see.
I control the strategies and conditions necessary for improving. Learning strategies are key to whether students can effectively use the feedback we offer. We empower learning when we teach students strategies such as retrieval practice, interleaving, concept maps, deliberate and distributed practice, self-testing, and others. The more learning strategies students can tap to support their learning, the better able they are to utilize the feedback they receive.
I use feedback to connect my efforts to my goals. Student goal setting is a powerful tool for helping students to focus their attention and efforts, monitor their progress, and build their confidence. When we connect our feedback to the goals students have set and are working toward, we make their learning more efficient and support them to become increasingly independent learners.
I am empowered to ask questions about and clarify feedback I receive. Students are often reluctant to follow up and ask questions to gain a clear understanding of the feedback they receive. Yet, as students move beyond listening and begin to engage in the content and implications of feedback, they understand more deeply and take greater ownership of their actions. Rarely, if ever, should we provide feedback that is not followed by opportunities for questions and discussion.
Feedback is a powerful learning tool, but students must learn how to think about and use it in order for that feedback to deliver on its potential. These five mindsets are good places to start that process.