How many of us have thought about giving useful feedback to our students and fallen short? Moreover, how many times have we given what we thought was extensive feedback, and seen no improvements in student performance? Or that some students were utilizing our feedback while others did not? How can we provide constructive feedback which will be useful to all learners in that it serves to both instruct as well as motivate students? One way might be to provide “wise feedback.”
Wise feedback is targeted feedback which conveys high expectations, the instructor’s genuine belief that those expectations can be achieved by the student, and provides concrete information to help the student meet the expectations. Here, “wise” does not necessarily mean smarter or better. Instead, wise feedback refers to psychological interventions which are attuned to how people make sense of themselves, others, and social situations which may affect their learning.
“I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” or “The expectations in this course are high and I know you can do great work. The feedback here is designed to help you get there.” Using this framing when providing feedback to your students helps to build trust, signal belonging, and combine high standards with the assurance that people can reach them. Obviously, simple assurances and trust in the abilities of others are in themselves not sufficient to guarantee success. It is therefore essential to also include constructive criticism, clear pathways/specific directions, and guidance on how students can achieve success.
While all students can benefit from wise feedback, studies have shown that students from cultures which have traditionally suffered from race-based stigma, seem to get additional benefits from wise feedback (Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999; Yeager et al, 2014).
Communicating high expectations and providing students with the support to meet them is crucial. Students can thrive when they are challenged. But they need to understand the expectations, know how to meet them, and feel that the instructor believes in their capabilities.
Devshikha Bose is an Instructional Design Consultant at Boise State University's Center for Teaching and Learning.
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