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Feedback Geared for Success

Lana M. Mindshew, PhD.

Providing feedback that is informative, constructive, and supports a Growth mindset (i.e., the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed) can be a difficult undertaking. Providing feedback is an essential part of learning in the experiential education setting and is necessary to mold the next generation of pharmacists. We know from research that feedback can influence student motivation and performance (Alderman, Towers, and Bannah, 2012; Evans, 2013) and is linked to mindset development (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017). But how do we provide informative and constructive feedback in the moment that truly supports the development of a learner’s growth mindset and clinical skills? Carol Dweck (2006), the author of Mindset: The new psychology of success, suggests that our language frames how learners will interpret our feedback. The words we choose and how we present them influences the response we obtain from our learners. Being cognizant of how we, as preceptors, respond to different learners and educational scenarios can impact learning during rotations.

Developing a Growth mindset as opposed to a Fixed mindset has been a major topic in both education and pharmacy education for several years. It is important to remember that mindsets are not dichotomous (i.e., you are either one or the other), but occur along a spectrum; thus, allowing individuals to move along the continuum between the two (Dweck, 2006). This means that an individual’s mindset can transition from being Fixed to Growth and vice versa depending the context and their individual experiences. For example, a student can have a Growth mindset for their mathematical ability (i.e., I am good with numbers. I enjoy complicated mathematical problems.); however, at the same time have a Fixed mindset for writing (i.e., I am not a good writer. Others are just naturally good at it and I will never be.) It’s an individual’s approach difficult tasks and how they respond to failure that supports either a Growth or a Fixed mindset. This aspect of the theory acknowledges that how feedback is presented is critical in supporting the development of a growth mindset in learners. Below are tips for how to navigate providing feedback that support a growth mindset.

Table 1.

Growth Mindset Feedback Strategies and Examples

Strategy  Explanation  Example Feedback Phrases 
Focus feedback on learner progress, strategy, persistence, and effort. Keep feedback attuned to the process as this will increase motivation, grit, and persistence. Move the focus of feedback away from the individual and the product.
  • Great improvement on X skill/task/etc.
  • Good progress, you need more practice with Y.
  • Let’s think about how to improve Z.
Recognize that preparation and ability are not the same thing. Stay away from praising natural ability, focus on tangible things learners can improve upon.
  • It’s great that you have that down. Now we need to find something more challenging so you can grow.
  • What choices did you make that you think contributed to your success?
Feedback should offer specific guidance on how to change. Be direct. For example, identify key steps in how a learner can perform a task differently or more efficiently.
  • The task is tough, let’s break it down into steps.
  • Let’s do it together, out loud.
  • Let’s write a plan for practicing and/or learning.
Do not lower standards for success. Be specific about where or what learners need to improve upon.

Clearly explain the expectations. Identify tangible steps and/or resources the learner needs.

  • I expect you to make some mistakes. The mistakes you make may identify ways I can support you.
  • You might be struggling, but you are making progress. I can see growth.
  • What parts were difficult for you? Let’s look at them.
Always offer the opportunity to discuss your feedback. It is important that leaners fully understand the feedback and the standards you have set.
  • Let me explain in another way with different words.
  • Describe your process for completing the task.
  • I see you are using your strategies/tools/notes/etc. Keep it up!
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