Author: Arif Mahmud, Project Officer – University of Portsmouth 

The purpose of ‘good’ feedback is to develop students’ understanding and translate this understanding into productive, effective behavioural change that leads to growth (Forsythe & Johnson,2017). Some students understand the importance of feedback as they appreciate that it will improve their performance (Hemingway 2011; Brown et al., 2014) and research continuously substantiates the effect of feedback on student performance and motivation (Orsmond & Merry 2011; Alderman et al., 2012; Evans 2013). Nevertheless, some students continually held ‘weak beliefs about the usefulness of feedback’ during their university learning experience (MacDonald et al. 2007; Lew et al., 2010; Merry et al. 2013).

Numerous non-cognitive factors impact academic performance and the core aim of the Changing Mindsets project is to develop staff and student’s growth mindset (for more information on mindset theory see Mahmud, 2017). Research related to Dweck’s (2002) mindset theory often focuses on the language used in feedback and research has shown that a student’s academic performance is linked to their attitude towards their feedback (Chalmers & Fuller 1996; Gibbs & Simpson 2004; Kohn 2011; Pulfrey et al., 2011) as well as students’ attitudes towards the academic staff who provided  feedback (Tippin et al., 2012).

Student approaches to developing through feedback

Students who approach a task or subject with a growth mindset have been found to recognise feedback as a positive aspect of their learning (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017). Students that approach a subject with a fixed mindset are less engaged with feedback, as they feel that attempts at improvement would be futile (Crocker et al. 2006). Rather than looking to improve after feedback, students who approach a topic from a fixed mindset are more likely to take up maladaptive defensive behaviours to protect their self-esteem and image (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017). They are also less likely to challenge themselves and may be more concerned about making mistakes than with learning, growing, and improving (Dweck, 2002). For students who approach their studies with a fixed mindset, a focus on grades and a fear of failure can consequently lead them to disregard the growth potential of feedback (Chalmers & Fuller 1996; Gibbs & Simpson 2004; Pulfrey et al., 2011; Kohn, 2011),

Staff strategies for growth mindset feedback practices

Understanding the common behaviours of students who do not adaptively engage with feedback could help practitioners understand better ways to support their students who may be self-sabotaging. For students who approach a task with a fixed mindset, motivation, as well as the ability to regulate their thoughts and feelings about feedback and grades, is fundamental for them to be able to translate their feedback into positive change as part of their learning experience.

Feedback techniques that have shown a high level of success for fostering an active learning approach include:

  • The setting of challenging goals (McAlpine 2004; Elikai & Schuhmann 2010; Richardson et al., 2012)
  • Information about the task and how it could be done more effectively
  • Feedback about student errors and how those errors can be avoided (Hattie 2009)
  • Feedback that draws on social-constructivist principles (Evans 2013)
  • Feedback that focuses on the process and effort (Mueller & Dweck, 1998)

Understanding and engaging with growth mindset feedback techniques may enhance the quality of the feedback and possibly the student response to that feedback.

With regards to the Changing Mindsets project, teaching staff have been sharing their best practices that they already use in terms of growth mindset feedback and they have been developing additional strategies to best support students. Feedback should be used to provide students with techniques for improvement and sense-making so that they can learn from mistakes (Nicol, 2010).

Whilst giving ‘good’ individualised feedback can be time-consuming, engaging with strategies for using growth mindset language feedback does not have to be burdensome. This could be in the form of including and using growth mindset language during oral feedback and incorporating growth mindset language into the bank of common responses for electronic and written feedback. Small changes can make a big difference.

Growth Mindset in the learning experience beyond feedback

Developing a growth mindset is not only achieved through feedback techniques, but can also be developed throughout the learning experience. This could, for example, be in the form of providing opportunities in the curriculum for students to take risks and to encourage students to become comfortable with the emotional experience of mistakes and failure. Teaching staff can support students as they come to understand that they need a degree of challenge to learn and improve (Elikai & Schuhmann, 2010).

Below is a video from the Khan Academy that shows the importance of using growth mindset language:

Disclaimer:  the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the values of the University of Portsmouth or the extended Partnership.


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Improving feedback through an understanding of Growth Mindsets

One thought on “Improving feedback through an understanding of Growth Mindsets

  • March 22, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Thank you so much for the great article, it was fluent and to the point. Cheers.


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