Wise feedback: How to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide

Yaeger, D. S. et al., (2014). Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 143, 804–824

From the abstract

Three double-blind randomized field experiments examined the effects of a strategy to restore trust on minority adolescents’ responses to critical feedback. In Studies 1 and 2, 7th-grade students received critical feedback from their teacher that, in the treatment condition, was designed to assuage mistrust by emphasizing the teacher’s high standards and belief that the student was capable of meeting those standards—a strategy known as wise feedback. Wise feedback increased students’ likelihood of submitting a revision of an essay (Study 1) and improved the quality of their final drafts (Study 2). Effects were generally stronger among African American students than among White students, and particularly strong among African Americans who felt more mistrusting of school. Indeed, among this latter group of students, the 2-year decline in trust evident in the control condition was, in the wise feedback condition, halted. Study 3, undertaken in a low-income public high school, used attributional retraining to teach students to attribute critical feedback in school to their teachers’ high standards and belief in their potential. It raised African Americans’ grades, reducing the achievement gap.

(From the Discussion section, shortened)

What can lift the barrier of mistrust that undermines the motivation to act on critical feedback? A series of randomized field experiments showed that communicating high standards and a personal assurance of the student’s potential to reach them can bolster minority adolescents’ school trust and improve their academic behavior in response to critical feedback. Studies 1 and 2 showed that when teachers accompanied adolescent students’ critiqued essays with a note communicating their high standards and belief in the recipient’s ability to reach them, African American students were more likely to turn in revised essays (Study 1), to make the changes suggested by the teacher (Study 2), and write better revisions (Study 2). Study 3 extended the inquiry to overall achievement among older adolescents in high school and isolated the importance of attributions in this process. A brief intervention designed to encourage students to attribute critical feedback to their teachers’ high standards and belief in their potential improved low-income, urban minority students’ achievement over the course of a semester. In doing so the intervention closed the racial achievement gap in this sample by nearly 40%. The findings pertain to educational settings, but also speak to the dilemma faced by every mentor, coach, manager, and parent: How to promote an individual’s cognitive, social, or emotional development through feedback that both instructs and motivates.