Actionable Feedback as a Means of Promoting a Growth Mindset

by Dr. Sue Chapman, Author, Math Solutions
January 24th, 2020

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We know it’s important to encourage our students to adopt a growth mindset towards their mathematical abilities. But when we draw a smiley face on a student’s paper or say “good job,” are we building a growth or a fixed mindset? These types of feedback are meant to encourage but they fail to give students specific information about what they did well or their next steps in learning. This nonspecific praise can cause students to attribute success to ability rather than effort.

Specific or actionable feedback supports student learning. It also helps students to take ownership for their learning and see how to focus their learning efforts. In their book INFORMative Assessment, Jeane Joyner and Mari Muri define actionable feedback as:

Illustrative drawings of a red sad face, a yellow mellow face, and a green happy face

“…information that is descriptive, telling students what is correct or incorrect and suggesting where students might go next. It gives students enough information so that they have an idea of what they need to rethink or how to improve, but not so much direction that the thinking is done for them” (2011, p. 254). 

Actionable feedback demonstrates the teacher’s belief in student potential which contributes to a growth mindset.

Examples of Actionable Feedback:

  • Your answer is correct but your explanation isn’t clear. How can you communicate your process for solving this problem so that others can see your thinking?
  • You’ve found two solutions for this task. Do you think there are there others? How might you find out?
  • Your procedure makes sense but there are some computational errors. What are some ways you can check your work for accuracy?

Questions for Reflection:

How might you examine the types of feedback you currently provide for your students?

What are some ways you could refine your skills in crafting and offering actionable feedback?

How might you monitor the impact of your feedback on student learning, and on your students’ attitudes towards mathematics and themselves as math learners?

Please share your thoughts and your stories in the comments.

Sue Chapman is a professional educator, presenter, and author who has devoted over 30 years to instructional improvement and mathematics education. Throughout her career, Sue has served and taught in several different areas of professional education, including instructional and leadership positions. Sue’s passion for professional learning and her ability to inspire teachers to come together around a shared vision of success have been instrumental in helping schools and districts develop systems and internal capacity to achieve continuous improvement of mathematics instruction.


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