Teaching and Justice, Tips on Teaching

Wise feedback to reduce stereotype threat and to support your classroom community

by Christopher Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Offering constructive feedback on student performance can offer important opportunities for social and intellectual development.  However, research has found that students do not always understand how teachers critique their work and may misconstrue comments as overly negative.  This misunderstanding can reinforce negative stereotypes and undermine teacher/student trust. 

Wise feedback is one feedback strategy that helps build trust, provides personal connections between student and instructor, and reduces stereotype threat.  It is a simple strategy that also offers a way to communicate high academic standards while also reaffirming students’ positive identity.   Wise feedback typically includes the following three types of feedback statements:

A specific actionable feedback statement.  Offer a statement that gives students clear instructions on what to do next.  For example, “Your presentation followed the basic requirements of the assignment.  The comments I made are suggestions on how to make it better.”

A statement of high expectations.  Comment on the challenge students are facing and why it matters for their learning.  For example, “I set a high bar for everyone to reach for in this assignment, and it will take a lot of work to get there. But, this is the kind of presentation similar to the kind of work you will do within the field.”  

Express confidence in the student’s ability to accomplish the task at hand.  End feedback with a statement that expresses trust in the student’s abilities.  For example,I know from past assignments you have the ability to make the necessary improvements to your presentation.”

Research shows Wise feedback yields a number of benefits for learning.  In addition to reducing stereotype threat, wise feedback prioritizes the context of learning for students while communicating a culture of high expectations.  Instead of only assessing their academic performance, Wise feedback allows students to be seen as academically capable and a part of a larger educational framework.

Wise feedback only requires a few sentences and works most effectively when presented  separately from grades.  Instructors can utilize wise feedback anytime during the course and can be applied to all teaching situations.  While my examples are suited for individual feedback on an assignment, instructors who teach larger courses can offer Wise feedback verbally to a whole class or make a video (or audio) recording.  

If you would like to talk with someone about how to incorporate Wise feedback into your instruction, please consider scheduling a confidential consultation with someone from the Reinert Center [Link]


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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167299258011

Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., Hessert, 

W., Williams, M. & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 804-824.