Evidence That It Works
Research found that teachers who gave their 7th grade students “wise feedback” on a written assignment increased the likelihood of students not only revising their essays, but also showing improvements on their final draft. In another study, students who were taught to see their teachers’ feedback as communicating their high standards and belief in students’ potential increased their grades.
Why Does It Matter?
All students want to be successful in school and in life, but some face more barriers than others in reaching their dreams. Stereotype threat — or the anxiety that results from the possibility of being reduced to a negative stereotype based on group membership — is one such barrier. If experienced multiple times, a student may eventually stop caring about a particular subject area or even academic success, in general, and give up.
By the time students reach 7th grade, they are aware of negative stereotypes associated with their racial, ethnic, or gender group membership and may be concerned that their teachers believe these stereotypes. Teachers can unknowingly confirm these concerns by giving remedial schoolwork, overpraising students’ efforts, or some other act that demonstrates teachers’ unconscious biases.
However, research shows that by communicating high expectations and a belief in students’ ability to reach those expectations, or “Wise Feedback,” teachers can assure students that they are not being judged based on a negative stereotype — instead, they are being seen in their full humanity.
This not only builds trust between teachers and students, but also helps students to view themselves as academically capable — thus enhancing their academic identity as a learner and, hopefully, lessening the effect of any future stereotype threat.
Scientists have discovered that many groups experience stereotype threat, directly impacting their academic performance. Here are just a few examples from research:
- African-American students, when told they are taking a test designed to test their intellectual ability
- Men, when told that a test would measure social sensitivity in comparison to women
- Women, when told that a math test would produce gender differences
- Hispanic and African-American students, when worried about whether their professors see them stereotypically
- Low socio-economic students from the UK, when told they are taking a test that measures intellectual ability
- Muslim immigrant students from Turkey and Morocco, when they perceive discrimination at their Belgian school
- Students with ADHD, who are asked about their diagnosis, and then warned that people with ADHD score lower on GRE questions
- White men, when told Asian students outperform Caucasian students in math