Feedback for Growth / Introduction
Introduction to Feedback for Growth
An introduction to the learning condition Feedback for Growth


“I always thought school wasn’t for me. It seemed that people like me just get in trouble in school. But my 8th grade math teacher really changed my mind. She told us that she knew that every one of us could learn and that she would work hard to help us get there. She pointed out every mistake I made but then helped me figure out what I needed to do differently to find the right answer. I worked so hard in her class because she believed in me. I learned math, and I saw that school is a place for me and that if I work hard in school I can do well.”

- A high school senior, reflecting on middle school

Notice that this teacher gave frequent, individuated feedback. She did not just make affirming statements, like “I believe in you.” She actively collaborated with students on the learning process, and—very importantly—she took steps to ensure that her feedback didn’t feel like a judgement of her students or of their ability. Instead, the frequency and tone of her feedback conveyed that she was there to help them learn and grow so that they could reach a higher standard.

Research shows that the feedback students hear from their teachers is a powerful force in students’ learning.

First, and perhaps most obviously, students need feedback to learn. Students can only correct what they realize is incorrect, and they are unlikely to be able to consistently and accurately evaluate their learning on their own, even in high school.

But there is a second role of teacher feedback that often gets less attention than it deserves: when teachers give students feedback, they convey what they expect and value. If a teacher praises students for thinking deeply and points out new ways in which deeper thinking could be achieved, this signals that deep thinking is valued.

In a similar way, a teacher’s feedback can convey that it’s valuable to try new strategies or not be afraid to ask for help when you’re stuck. It can also help students learn that all questions are welcome and respected.

What are some effective strategies for giving feedback to students in a way that promotes their cognitive and social/emotional development? The central strategy is focusing on growth over proficiency. Emphasizing growth will help you focus on giving rich, detailed feedback from which students can learn, and it conveys that you value and believe in your students' growth.

Strategy 1: Explicitly Prioritize Growth Over Proficiency

Strategy 2: Give Actionable Critical Feedback Along with Reassurance

Strategy 3: With Praise, Think Quality Over Quantity

We will delve into each strategy in greater detail in the upcoming chapters. Please use the following key to identify different kinds of resources within each chapter:


Evidence of Effectiveness


Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33–52.

Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustocki, P., Master, A., Hessert, W. T., Williams, M. E., & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 143(2), 804-824.

Cohen, G. L., Steele, C. M., & Ross, L. D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(10), 1302–1318.

Cimpian, A., Arce, H.-M. C., Markman, E. M., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Subtle linguistic cues affect children’s motivation. Psychological Science, 18(4), 314–316.

Kamins, M. L., & Dweck, C. S. (1999). Person versus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology, 35, 835–847. B

rummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Orobio de Castro, B., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). “That’s not just beautiful--that’s incredibly beautiful!”: The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem. Psychological Science, 25, 728–735.

Brophy, J. (1981). Teacher praise: A functional analysis. Review of Educational Research, 51(1), 5–32.

Associated Measures

To help teachers track their progress at providing feedback that helps students grow, the Engagement Project uses several survey questions.

  • This week, my teacher challenged me to learn as much as I can.
  • This week in class, I thought about ways to improve the quality of my work.
  • This week in class, I got specific suggestions about how to improve my skills.

The results of the surveys can help you know how your students are experiencing your feedback. Ultimately, teachers have to find the strategies that work best for them and their students, but most teachers who participate in the Engagement Project see gains in their feedback for growth scores within a few months.