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Nourishing Growth Mindset Through Feedback in Education

Researchers generally agree that feedback is essential to learning but pedagogical models vary. Some are more focused on investigating students’ receptivity, while others focus on how to encourage students to effectively process the feedback they receive.

Our study asks staff and students about their experiences with effective feedback. Their responses tended to revolve around design concerns like timing, modalities and connected tasks.

Constructive Criticism

Instilling a growth mindset in students helps them to understand that mistakes are just opportunities for learning. They can learn to see setbacks as positive, as in Michael Jordan’s story of being cut from his high school basketball team, which spurred him to work harder and improve his skills.

In addition to being open to constructive criticism, students with a growth mindset are also more collaborative and empathetic. They are more likely to seek feedback from others and are able to see different viewpoints, which is crucial in an ever-changing world where adaptability is key.

To help students learn to accept constructive criticism, educators should compliment students’ strengths before pointing out any areas for improvement. For example, a teacher should compliment a student’s listening abilities before indicating that the student could be more attentive. Using visual cues, such as a green symbol for praise and a yellow one for constructive criticism, can help students remember the appropriate time to receive each type of feedback.


Educators can use praise to foster a growth mindset, but it must be specific and contingent upon the behavior students are being praised for. General praise (such as “nice work”) is not as effective as praising a specific behavior like taking notes in class or lining up quietly.

Praise that centers on intelligence rather than effort also encourages a fixed mindset, as research by Dweck and Mueller has shown that students who are praised for their intelligence lose confidence in their abilities when faced with new material or challenges, whereas those who are praised for their efforts remain confident and eager to take on new tasks.

Teachers can encourage a growth mindset by praising risk-taking and perseverance in the classroom, while encouraging reflection on failure and mistakes to help students reframe their setbacks as learning opportunities. Additionally, embracing the concept that anyone can learn anything allows students to feel safe taking risks and approaching difficult problems with a resilient attitude.

Formative Comments

In a growth mindset culture, students need to understand the feedback they receive on an assignment is about how well they've met learning goals—not a judgment of who they are as learners. It's not easy for students to adopt this growth mindset view of feedback when they see their teachers, parents, and peers treating grades as a definitive measure of how smart they are or whether they have any potential in a subject.

The way to foster a nourishing growth mindset with feedback is to provide formative feedback throughout the course of an assignment. This feedback is more beneficial to learning than the one summative, high-stakes grade that's given at the end of an assignment.

Gathering meaningful feedback requires instructors to spend time in class explaining how and why they'll be gathering feedback, so that the process is clear to all students. For example, an instructor might explain the Plus/Delta feedback tool to help students identify what they should continue doing to improve their performance and what changes they need to make to achieve higher levels of success in their courses.

Goal-Oriented Feedback

The type of feedback that most effectively stimulates a mastery-approach orientation is goal-oriented. Students receive more meaningful feedback if they can immediately connect it to their long-term goals. For example, students who want to learn how to write an essay should receive feedback that is geared toward enhancing their writing skills. This kind of feedback is specific to the prompt and student response and focuses on their successes, not just their mistakes.

Students also need to be able to use feedback to correct their performance. Often in formative assessments, feedback is given too late (when the performance is over). It’s important to provide students with opportunities to reshape their performances based on feedback.

Task-level feedback describes the accuracy of responses and may provide directions on how to improve strategies. In contrast, process-level feedback enables students to appreciate the relationships between their goal strategies and performance and can help them transfer these skills to new tasks.

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